In Paris it is easy to jump onto a city bus without paying.
The metro, however, is impossible to cheat. So when I found myself sick from a vaccine injection without any Euros, I hopped onto a bus. I fake-fumbled with my wallet for a second, sat down, and rested my head on the window like a disgruntled local.
I didn’t remember where to find my hostel. But I knew I had to go to the Louvre, and then walk down Rue Saint Honore a bit, and then eventually I would find it. My head was light and my stomach did anxious flips. My vision began to blur.
Because there were no vaccines in the small town I was staying in, I came to Paris for the yellow fever vaccine. Before the nurse pricked me I told her that I might faint. She didn’t speak English. So I made the motion for injection and pretended to slump over in my chair. She laughed and said a flippant: “Oh, non. Tu es d’accord”, like it was impossible for me to pass out in her room.
She gave me the injection and I fainted. I apologised profusely. When I was well enough to walk she escorted me into a small room to have the doctor look at me. After an hour in I was well enough to go back out into Paris and to find my way to the hostel.
The truth was that on top of my problems dealing with the vaccine, I was just having an-all-around real pisser of a day. I was in preparation to move to Ghana and trying to finish all the details in a language I didn’t speak. I was having extreme doubts about my next steps in life. I was away from my family and friends. I felt, significantly, alone.
I eventually got off the bus, stumbled around until I found the hostel, and paid for a bed. I unloaded my stuff, and even though my body begged for rest, I went back out into the streets.
My limps felt like weak rubber. My lips tingled. My adrenaline was so high that I thought my body was going to burst. I thought it would help to walk. Or cry.
But I couldn’t. Maybe I was too tired. People blurred by me. Cigarette smoke. Heavy, grainy accents of teenage girls. I was stuck inside my head and surrounded by marble and glass.
I stopped on a street corner and leaned against a pole. I felt dehydrated and feverish. Did I have a fever? I put my hand against my head.
“Are you okay?”
“What?” I was surprised that someone had spoken in English to me. “Yes, I think so. But I need to sit down.”
The young man guided me to a chair at a café crossed the street. He sat down beside me.
“You look really pale. Are you sick?” He looked at me with genuine concern.
He spoke in a thick accent, but it wasn’t French. He was tall and dark skinned, and had a sporty-look about him. He had black hair that fell in small ringlets around his face.
“I just got some vaccines. I don’t feel so good to be honest. Some tea maybe…” I reached for the menu.
He spoke in French to the waitress. My eyes were focusing in and out. “You need sugar too,” he said.
I tried to protest, but was too weak to put up a big fight. My stomach lurched at the sight of the cakes in the window.
“So,” he said, as if trying to choose his words carefully, “if it is all right with you, we will have a small tea? I don’t get to use my English so much, and I also want to learn some things about you and where you are coming from.”
My stomach tightened, but I wasn’t too opposed to company, in fact I was happy to have some. I felt like I hadn’t spoken to another human being in weeks. My blood sugar began to rise and I then poured my heart out to him in the way you only can with absolute strangers that you won’t ever see again.
In return I learned that he was a Moroccan immigrant who worked full time at a grocery store. He was trying to go to school to study computer sciences and his girlfriend had just broken up with him.
After tea and cake he walked me to the hostel and we said goodbye. It was just like that. Simple and honest. Sometimes people give real comfort in doing simple things, like buying a stranger a tea. And because of that I went to sleep without thinking anything at all.
The next morning I woke up early to go to the airport. A every grocery store I walked by I would peer inside, hold my breath, but keep walking.