The Last Day in Pau

by Devina Gunawan

I woke up feeling nauseaous. The big room that I had been staying in for over a week now grew bigger and colder and emptier. My clothes were stuffed in my luggage, my files stapled and stacked in my purse, and my many pairs of shoes were no longer on the front steps of the door. There was just a pair, the one that I would wear going home by the door.

The noises of the little children singing outside my windows had woken me up. I had fallen asleep rather late the night before, a bit tipsy and disappointed with life, and it took few children’s singing to open my heavy eyes.

I got up, stretched, and headed towards the windows to shut them.

It felt uneasy, really, knowing that I had only one more day in Pau. Really, I had no idea how I was going to spend the day, or whom I was going to see. Most of my friends had returned to the States, and I foolishly decided to stay a little bit more than an extra week to enjoy some quality time with the city that had tormented me for three months.

Well, tortures usually would come with lessons.

I showered and put on my favorite red dress that I had prepared since two days before. The mirror seemed to crack a little. My petite figure had lost its curves ever since I had gotten here. Stress was eating out my flesh.

My phone beeped and a confirmation of a movie popped up. Two friends were making time to see me for the last time. They live here, I thought, how lucky.

With the reminder that it was the last day, I quickly slipped myself in my red heels and headed out of my apartment unit. The day was bright and gay that I decided to take the stairs to descend from the second floor.

I reached the ground floor and pressed the button to open the gates. And as they opened I thanked Appart’City for being on Maréchal Joffre, placed perfectly close to the best foods in town.

The cinema, which had become my number one place to waste away empty hours, was right on the left. There, I had gone from “Version originale, s’il vous plaît” to “Une place pour –honestly, any movie that looked interesting-, s’il vous plaît,” marking the transformation from “I don’t trust my French” to “Whatever.”

Nooϊ was only five minutes away on foot, and there was nothing better than a box of warm, delicious pesto pasta on the cold days in Pau. Georgio, the best of best ice cream in my life, was only ten minutes away, next to the church and shops. La Gourmandise, Maison du Macaron with the most amazing macarons I had ever devoured in my life, was only three minutes away. Yes, I would count my time getting to places.

Unfortunately, my dorm was far away. Around 20 to 25 minutes away, to be exact, depending on how fast I could drag myself there. Not that I’d trouble myself walking down there to see it. The day was too precious to walk the distance. However, during the semesters Residence le Thélѐme was strategically located across the campus, and I had gotten used to getting up two hours before class to run for half an hour with my friend around the neighborhood, taking my time for as long as I needed before class, and heading to class fifteen minutes ahead. It was that close.

Then I remembered my first week of classes, when a biker snatched my laptop away from my hands and made me tremble and break and curse. That campus held no mercy for me, and I wasn’t going to ask for any that day.

The campus didn’t miss me and I felt the same way. I would have to walk down Rue Carnot and Avenue Dufau, and I didn’t feel like it. The buses weren’t exactly my friends, and I had been limiting my exploration to simply on foot. The only reason to ever go visit my campus was McDo, which was by, across it. That would also mean the cinema and bookstore, and perhaps later a short stop at  Pomme de Pain by the dorm. Le Norvégien sandwich was truly the only motivation to ever visit my dorm after the semester ended. But I had run out of enthusiasm and bus tickets, and I knew better.

So I stepped out of Appart’City and headed left to Maison du Macaron, where I would get my last cup of hot millk and talk to the owner for the last time. She had grown fond of me, or so I believed, after seeing my face on day-to-day basis and laughing at my indecisiveness when it came to choosing my macarons. I ignored the usual comments some men would throw at me on my way there, and entered the store with a happy smile for breakfast.

The farewell was actually sadder in my imagination when it really happened. The lady of the store smiled warmly and wished me good luck on well, everything. I felt odd for thinking I’d have a tearful moment and just sat down, drinking my warm milk and biting into my last macaron.

Afterwards, I got up and walked my way up to Château de Pau. I once was told that I had a long time ago lived there, as a little boy, obnoxious and despised. Envied and hated. Few lives back, I thought it must have been, since the castle felt like a different home to my heart. I remembered walking to one of the churches nearby and took my steps inside as a man, not as the young woman that I was now.

I remembered how the men of Pau despised me, all without exception that my friends questioned why I seemed to attract bad lucks in the city. It was an eye for an eye, a payback, for every horrible thing I had had committed the few lives ago.

Funny how your soul would visit old homes and leave you lost without the memories. Funny how people would never remember where they had once lived. Funny how some would, like I did.

And it was painful.

My steps ended in front of the Château and I bid it farewell. Thank you, I said, for forgiving me. For letting me come home.

Then tears escaped my eyes.  The mountains were singing me a farewell song. At least in my head they were.

I was glad that it was morning and tourists hadn’t swarmed by. It’d be embarrassing to be seen like this.

I turned around and walked my way to Glacier Metiyer, past the mountains on my right, glancing at the pubs and bars I used to visit. There was no place I truly wanted to visit, as it seemed as if I had walked all over town and on that day, there was no place I’d rather be than in my room in Appart’City. I felt like sitting down for a while and convincing myself that yes, I was leaving the next morning. I’d eat at Chez Pierre again, but I didn’t want to do so alone.

Dinner was far away, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to eat anything.

I walked around the city until it was time to meet my friends and watch movies. It was nice, spending the last day with people. We talked about life, future, and the unknown. We talked and walked and hugged goodbye before they had to run catch the last bus home.

Then I seated myself by the water fountain across Galeries Lafayette and calmed myself down. This isn’t life, I told myself, home is waiting for you.

My long-term boyfriend was to pick me up at  Houston airport in about a day. To me, he had been home.

Yet this place, this city, strangely felt like home too.

At around 22.00 I dragged myself to Quick for a takeout dinner. I was lining up behind a big family of tourists, the only ones there other than me. They were relying on the father, who spoke some French to order their meals, and meanwhile, speaking to each other in English.

After awhile, they noticed my presence, looked at me with guilt, and let me make my order first by retreating to a table by the counter.

The girls in the group were eyeing me from head to toe, noting how I dressed “Beautifully and simply, like how French women do.”

I tried to ignore them as I made my way to the waitress, who sighed in relief when I greeted her. Then she, exhausted by the previous customers, started telling me how tired she was and how insane it was trying to understand tourists. I nodded, telling her that I understood her problem completely.

“She must be French born,” I heard one of the boys in the group say.

I wondered if I should tell them that I was not. That I was just like them. Except that, to think about it again, after everything that the city had taught me, I knew I wasn’t.

The waitress told me that maybe the tourists were saying bad things about her, as she was worried that she hadn’t given her best service. I told  her no, they weren’t.

I told her that she was doing fine. Then she asked why I had come there so late since I usually came by for their early morning coffee and croissants, and I told her I’d gone elsewhere for breakfast and at the moment just needed food in my room. I told her that I was leaving first thing in the morning. She happily told me to enjoy my holiday and to say hi to her when I came home later.

I wished I could tell her I wasn’t coming back.

The group was quiet, and we could feel them admiring our conversation as if we were speaking in alien tongue.

I looked at my phone when my boyfriend texted to ask if I was ready to come home. I replied: yes.

The moment my order came out I grabbed it, said goodbye to the waitress, and walked out, followed by stares of fascination from people who believed that I had been a part of this city.

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