October 7th, 2018
In this alleyway café, sipping an espresso spiked milkshake, and listening to the rain. “Okla skate et snow shop” is across the way.
From the station in Toulouse, after five hours on the train, with my large bag on my back, and the small one in my hand, I took to the streets in a light, chilly rain. Burnt orange brick, and eclectic cafes.
Just a few streets in, the signs began to change. From “Crepes” and “Charcuterie” to “Ha Long Bay”. A hot bowl of Pho promised warmth and comfort on this chilled and clouded day.
“But would Vietnamese food in France be any good? What other options would I miss?” I’d drifted nearly 100 meters down the street before stopping in my place. I turned around.
It was empty when I sat down. But, in the short time it took my soup to arrive, all five tables became occupied, in that small café. Amongst French banter, a familiar phrase. “Do you speak English?” I heard her say. The fluently French Vietnamese waiter said “Yes”.
“Is there room for one?” she asked. He scanned the room nervously. Through a mouthful of hot noodles, I said “You can join me.”.
For the first few minutes, we didn’t speak. But that was mainly because I was too busy slurping every drop of fresh Vietnamese broth. Hell, I barely stopped to breathe. When she went to order, I caught her accent. Her origin became a mystery.
“Where are you from?” I probed with simplicity. “I’m from Spain.” She said. “Valencia, on the Mediterranean Sea.” Full on Pho, with a completely empty bowl, I crumpled the soggy 20-euro bill in my hand, then shoved it away. I’d been ready to pay, but with this prospect of conversation, I decided to stay. “Un café sil vous plait.” I flaunted one of my two French phrases to the waiter.
We talked for another twenty or so. We started with our origins. Then, about our travels. She said this was her first time in France. She worked for a government agency. I told her I’d only been here a week, but that I was already considering ways to extend my stay. “Hotels in Spain are always hiring English speakers.” She said. “Interesting.”
At the conclusion of my cup, I got up to get going. “It was nice talking to you.” I said. “Yes, enjoy your trip!” She replied. And then, I returned to the rain.
Through the puddles I reached that intersection again. The spot where I’d decided to turn back. “Dammit, we should have exchanged contact information.” I said in my head. “Will I regret it?” I asked. Then, took 47 more steps back to the café.
She fumbled her fork as I swung open the door. I must have caught her by surprise. I slid her that soggy train ticket, with my email smudged on it. “In case I come to Spain.” “Hasta luego.” We exchanged. We both smiled. I again wandered the streets until I found another café.
I’m still sitting here, and it’s still raining. After three straight days of warmth, today reminds me that winter is on its way. Which brings me back to that sign across the street. “Okla skate et snow” + “Hotels in Spain”. What if I find a way to stay?
One hour ‘till I leave for The Mill.