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Unscheduled Meetings

A sunny afternoon in Paris, I made my way to an Automatic Teller Machine to get some pocket money. I was in Paris supervising the production of a television commercial I had written back in Canada. It was late Friday and the crew was released for the weekend. We were in a suburban area and one of the guys on the local Paris crew told me there was an ATM machine in front of a supermarket about a block away, so I walked down there. I figured the guys would be a while taking down all the equipment and securing it, so I was confident I’d get a ride to the hotel in one of the vans when I got back.

The supermarket at the next corner was small by North American standards and would not be called a ‘super’ market back home. In a covered alcove outside the front of the store I saw the ATM. A woman was at the machine conducting a transaction as I approached. I stood a couple of meters back to respect her privacy when she suddenly turned to me and brandished her bank card while showing frustration on her face.

“Quel est le problème ici? Ma carte ne fonctionnera pas!” she said.

“Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas français.” I said. I had to use that phrase a lot during my two weeks in Paris. I was staying in Paris for the next week then we flew to Rome for another shoot for a week, then back to Paris for a final week to finish shooting the series of spots for Dentyne gum. The editing and finishing would be done back home.

“Excusez-moi? Oh. Are you… what… English? You speak English?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. I noticed that she was a very elegant lady about fifty years old. Perhaps wealthy, judging from the quality of her knee-length A-line coat in a magnificent grey tweed. I’m no clothing maven, but I recognize quality when I see it. I could see that I was speaking with a very high quality person, and the natural beauty of her face became apparent when I really looked. I saw no trace of eye shadow or mascara, no makeup of any kind, not even lipstick on her beautifully shaped mouth. Her hair, too, was natural; a lovely balance of straight black and obviously natural touches of silver. It was cut short and fell close to her cheeks to form a frame for her tanned face.

“This damn card,” she said and thrust the object of her frustration into my hand and turned away. In profile, she had a fine, aquiline nose that balanced beautifully between her full, pink mouth and her deep blue eyes. Blue eyes with black hair have always been a trigger for me. I looked down at the bank card and saw at once that it had expired the previous week.

“It’s expired,” I said. I handed the card back to her.

“Mon Dieu!” she said. “What a fool I am!”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Nothing for you to be sorry for,” she said. “Thank you for showing me my foolishness.” She began looking around, as if desperate to get out of her uncomfortable situation. She had no cash and she needed some but didn’t know what to do about it. She was obviously a woman who was unaccustomed to being caught short.

“Allow me to help you,” I said. I stepped to the machine and withdrew twice as much Euros as I needed and held her half out to her.

“I can’t accept that,” she cried.

“Of course you can,” I said. “Please.”

“How will I repay you?” she said. I felt she was teasing a bit, the way she said that.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said.

“What if I’m a… you call it hustler,” she said. “I take your money and disappear.”

“If you disappear, I lose nothing but a few Euros. If you return to me, each of us has a new friend.” I said. She looked at me for a long moment. It made me feel warm, the way she looked at me. It was a look that showed curiosity, like she was puzzling through this unique situation to form a way to end it.

“Do you know Tuileries Garden?” she said.

“Yes. I’m staying at the Hotel Regina,” I said.

“Excellent!” she said. “You’re right across the road. Can we meet tomorrow morning at the model sailboat pond? About nine o’clock?”

“Sure,” I said.

“See you tomorrow then,” she said. She turned on her heel and walked away down the side street.

I walked back up the block to our shooting site and found the place deserted. I guess I spent more time at the ATM than I thought, so the crew got the job done and took off for their happy weekend. Meanwhile, I was standing on a suburban corner I knew not where, wondering where one might find a cab in this neck of the woods.

A gleaming cream coloured Mercedes cabriolet came out of the side street where the woman had gone. She saw me at the same moment I saw her. The car’s top was down and the woman’s hair was tousled by the wind. She looked alive, fresh and exciting. Her age was evident in happy crinkles around her eyes and lips, but the impact was of energy, beauty and confidence, and that must have come from inside her. I thought she must be a spectacular person to know. She stopped in front of me and smiled up into my face with those wonderful eyes.

“Allow me to help you,” she said, mimicking my rather stilted earlier offer to her. I got into the car. “Are you going to your hotel or can I drop you somewhere else.” It wasn’t overt, but she made me feel like she was flirting. Maybe it was just me, thinking wishfully.

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