“Do you think Gauguin was really the one who chops off Van Gogh’s ear? I mean, isn’t it weird? If you’re angry with someone, are you going to cut off his ear? Come on, man! Ear! Why don’t you just chop his hand or foot? Ear is weird, right?” Ben can’t stop talking about Van Gogh’s controversial ear.
I try to find my keys from my backpack when he continues, “Hand would be great to chop off if you’re angry to a painter, right? So he can’t paint again,” then he smirks.
“Gauguin is not just a friend, He’s his boyfriend!” I say, “Got the key!” then I open the door to Jeremy’s apartment.
“Oh! Really?! It surprised me!” Ben says sarcastically.
“I mean, since Gauguin is his boyfriend, he doesn’t want to chop off his boyfriend’s hand because that would be bad to have a jobless boyfriend, right?” I add.
Ben laughs again, “you’re smart, Ellie!” Then I invite him inside the apartment.
“Wow, it’s a nice place.” He’s being polite.
“Thanks. I rent it with a very rich Korean kid.” Then I put my backpack in the living room and take out all the important things like wallet, metro card and my museum pass. “So I’m set. No more heavy backpack.”
Ben asked me to just put my backpack at my apartment so we can explore Paris more conveniently. I agreed since the apartment is only ten minutes away from Eiffel so I walked with him here.
“Since you’re really into painting, do you paint?” I ask Ben.
“Um, not anymore.”
“What else? I don’t have time since I’m working. But I love my job. I’m an architect anyway. What do you do, Ellie?”
“I designed cups.”
“You what? Is it some kind of Singaporean jargon of criminal job that I don’t get?” Ben looks confused.
“No, silly.” I chuckle, “it is literally like what I said. I designed cups. You know how Singaporeans obsessed with Bubble Milk Tea? Well, that turns out well for my company because we’re specialized in cups. We design them based on what the clients wanted, the material from plastic to styrofoam, the size, the convenience and even the security.”
“It seems more complicated than it looks.” He comments.
“Not really. I just love to make it sound complicated so people thought my job is hard.” I joke and we have another laugh together.
“Shall we?” I raise my apartment key.
“We shall.” Ben nods his head and walks pass me.
Ben accidentally thought that I’m a Singaporean just because I told him I’ve stayed there for more than half of my life. The bad thing was I didn’t correct him. I just don’t feel like telling him that I’m the Ellie he gave the chocolate to. I feel comfortable being the Ellie, a stranger he just met whom he said he’s known forever. And of course, not Ellie the sick girl.
We both reach the knob together and it happens. Ben’s hand touches mine. He doesn’t move for a while and I don’t either. We’re just frozen staring at our both hands intertwined. It’s not like I have butterflies in my stomach or suddenly there were unicorns flying around but it looks nice and it feels nice. The kind of nice when you want to leave the hands there forever.
Unfortunately I have to lock the door so I move my hand. Ben’s hand automatically lifted up from mine and I can’t see his face because he stands a little behind me. Oh how I wish I could see his face.
“About the inspiration, what did you mean by that?” Ben asks me while he walks down Rue Malar with me.
“Van Gogh’s kind of inspiration.” I answer.
He chuckles, he realizes that I don’t want to answer that question. “Well, Van Gogh didn’t come to Paris so it’s obviously not Van Gogh’s.”
“Yeah…” I just mumble without knowing what to say. I really can’t talk about why I came to Paris at the first place and by just thinking about it I shiver in a summer evening.
“Whatever it is, I hope you’ll find your starry night soon,” he adds.
“I won’t” I say.
“Like you said, it’s not in Paris.”
“What’s not in Paris? The inspiration?” He walks one step faster than me and turn back to see my face.
“The starry night is not in Paris.” I smile at him while he’s walking backwards now.
“Ow yeah right… It’s a small town in Provence, isn’t it? What was it… Um, Arles?” He guesses.
“Arles” I correct his pronunciation.
“Wow, that’s French rrr,” Ben makes a gurgle sound.
“Well that’s what you get for watching too much French TV. And you don’t say the s at the back.”
“No, I mean you said it like you were born French.”
“Try it!” I challenge him.
“Arrr-l” Ben is making a funny face when he pronounces that.
“Well, as much as I enjoy the idiotic face, I won’t let you do that again.”
And he laughs while looking deep into my eyes. “I really think I’ve seen you before Ellie…”
I knit my forehead, “in your previous life?”
“Yeah, maybe.” He settles for that.
“So where are we going?” I ask him.
“I have no idea!” He turns back again and walk beside me, “let’s just walk along the river until we’re hungry.”
“Okay.” I smile again. I feel like smiling all the time and can’t contain my excessive happiness. It’s like a girl has been writing to Santa Claus for a year asking for a doll and when the Christmas finally came and she got the doll she couldn’t stop smiling at all.
I turn right at Quai d’Orsay and keep following the path with Ben telling random stories about his job, his love for paintings, his college experiences and his boss whom he and his colleagues nicknamed Jean Valjean.
“He’s like this big powerful man who acts tough in front of us you know, but when it comes to his daughter he’s just so weak! One time the daughter came to office and asked him to blow off the fairy dusts in front of everyone and he did it!” Ben laughs. “This is a story that would be hundred times funnier if you were there, trust me.” He convinces me because I didn’t laugh as loud as him.
“Yeah I guess.” I smile, looking at how cheerful he is.
We see a woman dressing in a wedding dress when we pass by the bridge in Pont Alexandre taking pictures with a man who’s dressed in a tux, obviously the husband to be.
I see the two of them holding hand and Ben says, “I did that on purpose.”
“Grabbing the knob as if I owned the house.” He grins at me. “Do you want to hold hand?”
I can feel hotness on my cheek and this time a butterfly inside my stomach. Geez, Ellie, you’re twenty eight years old and you’re blushing when a man wants to hold your hand? Grow the freaking up!
“Wow Ben, what a romantic gesture! Asking for holding hands!” I say sarcastically.
Ben contains his laughter, “I just didn’t know how you guys do it in Singapore, or in Paris…”
“I think it’s pretty general in every part of the world, you just take that hand!” I cry.
“If you insist…” He jokes and takes my hand. I let him hold my hand and I move closer to him, letting my chin presses his left shoulder. He then stops walking, lets my hand go and puts his left hand around me to drag me closer to him. I put my hand around his waist and then we just stand there in the middle of the path, holding tight to each other and this really feels so good.
Ben rests his chin on the top of my head and then moves it so his face is drowned in my hair while I just close my eyes, listening to his heartbeat. I can feel him breathing the scent of my hair in. I can feel his warm hand on the back of my head and I can feel myself relaxing.
I swear to god, if a doctor could test me right now, the cancer would be gone by now because I have never felt better!
I understand that I’m letting a guy holding me this tight because I’m admittedly lonely and I have been craving for this feeling for so long and the fact that this is Ben, the guy who had a crush on me when I was a kid really soothes me. But I don’t understand why Ben does this, like he’s been missing me for years, like he won’t ever let go again.
“Hmph… I can’t breathe…” I mumble.
Ben releases me slowly, as if he actually doesn’t want to, “I am so sorry Ellie…”
“For what?” I ask.
“For that…?” He answers but more like asking back.
“Well, I’m not.”
“Me too.” There it is again, the gorgeous grin on his face.
“You just hugged me too tight I couldn’t breathe.”
“Then I’m sorry for that part, but not the hug. It was nice.” Suddenly his eyes look sparkling.
I try to act as nonchalantly as possible even though I literally can hear the beating sounds of my heart that suddenly races probably hundred times faster. I have only felt like this once and that was when I almost fell down on the edge of the cliff when I went on hike with my mom and dad long time ago. I thought the heart beats fast only when we are scared. I don’t know this such feeling exists. But this one… is so addictive, I want more.
Ben takes my hand and walk slowly with me along the SeineRiver. For minutes we just walk and enjoy the silence. The sound of the birds flapping their wings far away and people’s laughter in the background completes the moment. I tilt my head to see him and he’s real. He looks happy and nervous at the same time.
Somehow seeing his nervous face brings me to a memory I thought long gone. I didn’t remember when it happened but I remember the moment. I was sitting alone on the Bench because Shannon wasn’t in school that day. She had been absent from school for over a week because of the chickenpox. I had never got chickenpox yet so Mom didn’t let me visit her. I didn’t have so many friends back then so I sat alone on a Bench and took out my lunchbox.
I ate alone that day and wished the day to finish soon. I was still upset about what happened earlier during English subject. Our teacher decided to test each of the students for poem reading. When it was my turn, some kids laughed on me because apparently I didn’t pronounce R perfectly.
I talked to my mom that night and she said not everybody could pronounce R perfectly, especially people with shorter tongue. However I tried and tried for months and I could finally pronounced R perfectly. But that wasn’t the memory I collected back today.
Looking back to that day, there was a boy who approached me on the bench and I might look like resenting him because I turned my back on him. However he still tried to comfort me by saying “I heard what happened in your class. I think they’re wrong. You have a cute R sound. It’s like you were born French.” And then he smiled. That gorgeous grinning smile, as if he tried to amuse me. I didn’t laugh, I was just quiet. The words from him, saying me cute, was actually making my day better.
It’s like you were born French.
It was Ben.
It was Ben all along.
“It’s Pont Des Arts,” Ben breaks the silence and my journey to the past. He then takes out his pocket camera and starts to take picture of the interesting padlocks while I’m secretly watching him do that.
Ben has a tall figure for an Asian man. His hair is wavy and dark, as dark as his eyes which sparkle when he talks to me. His great teeth compliment his gorgeous smile but that must be bias since I kinda have fallen in love with him.
Oh God… Am I in love? Isn’t it crazy?
I patiently stand by the lamp post when suddenly my stomach rumbles, asking to be fed. Ben hears the sound and laughs. “Yeah, I forgot it’s passed lunch time.”
I look at my watch and it says half passed two in the afternoon. “I only ate a slice of toast for breakfast because I thought I would eat on the train.”
“Sorry, my bad…” Ben walks closer to me. “I’m being totally inconsiderate. I ate like a pig for breakfast so my biological clock totally messed up.”
“Let’s go,” he took my hand and walk fast to find a restaurant. It’s funny how he looks very guilty for making me hungry. To be honest, I’m not that hungry. I can live only with this feeling I guess. But the girl’s gotta eat too.
We walk pass street vendors who sell souvenirs like T-Shirts and mugs but no restaurants nearby. We walk until we find another intersection and turn right to Rue Dauphine.
“My colleagues told me there are two good restaurants here. What would you like to eat? Italian or Mexican?”
“I could go for a hot sauce,” I say.
“That’s what I thought too!” Then he brings me to a small restaurant named Fajitas.
The burnt jalapeno smell greets us when we open the door. We are seated next to the window and the waitress greets us “Bonjour Madame et Monsieur!”
“Bonjour!” I greet back. “Le menu, s’il vous plaît . ”
“Vous parlez Français Madame?”
“Je parle un peu Français.“
“Votre Français est bon !”
“Merci! But that was pretty much all I can.” Then she laughs.
She asks Ben, who looks amazed and surprised hearing me sound so sophisticated which is totally my plan, “What do you want, Monsieur?”
Ben ordered Quesadillas for him and Nachos for us to share while I order Taquitos. It feels weird to order Mexican food from a girl who speaks perfect French but well, the whole day has been extraordinary itself.
I’m sipping my ice water when Ben suddenly, out of the blue, asks this shocking question. A question I don’t know the answer. But he looks so serious when he stares at my eyes and asks that.
“Do you believe in destiny?”