Line 89 to Cardinal Lemoine-Monge | By Francis-Noël Thomas
I see her for twenty minutes. We don’t exchange a word.
I am waiting for a bus on an autumn evening after leaving the Bibliothèque nationale where I have spent the afternoon. I’ve been in Paris for a month and am about to go back to Chicago in three days. The bus is late; it starts to rain lightly; the bus shelter is overfull; strangers begin to talk to one another.
“How long have you been waiting?”
“Is there a strike?”
“The indicator says the next bus will come in five minutes.”
“Yes, but it’s been the same for the past half-hour.”
Then, I see her in the crowd. She has an arresting face. As soon as I see her, I want to know her. I listen to her voice. She is taking the delay as something to be laughed at, as if it were an agreeable surprise. I ignore everyone else waiting for the bus in order to pay attention to her. She does not seem to notice. The bus comes at last; crowded, but I get a seat. I am facing her, but we are separated by a seat. She’s reading, her face reflected in the window of the bus, and she’s more compelling than any of Vermeer’s women reading letters. The face is not beautiful; it is better than that – it is interesting. Absorbed as she is in reading, her face becomes an icon of intelligence. The bus reaches my stop.
The next time I am in Paris waiting for that bus I think of her. I remember her face, intent on her reading. I would recognize her in an instant. She has become the picture I want on the cover of the book I will never write, the book about being passionate.
NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Francis-Noël Thomas and the cognitive scientist Mark Turner were awarded a Prix du rayonnement de la langue et la littérature françaises by the Académie française in 1996 for their study of classic prose style, Clear and Simple as the Truth.