So I mentioned that yesterday I flew down the streets of Bordeaux toward the river on the handlebars of a strange French boy’s bike.
You’d think something like that would speak for itself, right? But c’mon, it’s me we’re talking about–I’m notorious for finding significance in a slip and a story in a sentence. Particularly this dude’s sentence, which sorta threw me. What led up to it went like this:
Bouncing over the cobblestones, laughing, and yelling “Pardonez-moi! Pardonez-moi!” to the late night walkers that we zoomed through, I folded into the nonexistent front basket and forgot how—just minutes earlier in Vintage Bar—I had checked my watch and wished I was in bed back home.
No, suddenly my legs were stuck straight-out in front of me and I watched as my brown boots expertly lead our weaving between sidewalk and street, playing captain to our soaring while the true navigator was behind me reassuring into my ear “Don’t worry! I’m very good at this! Stop worrying!”
I tried to repress the instinctual girl-squeal that happened every time he aimed the bike between two cement barriers or two close railings…and the more he succeeded the more I realized Shit, he really is good at this thing. I doubted I was the first one on his handlebars. I pretended I was anyway.
Our speedy descent sent my hair flying everywhere, but he had said “Lean back a little bit” so that my back and shoulders were cradled right into his chest and his vision ahead of us completely clear. It’s funny, maybe it was the language barrier, but somehow him simply not saying that my hair a nuisance was what made him so special; boys always comment on how much of a nuisance my hair is in the wind, and I get really self-conscious about that.
His voice was close enough so that I could hear his accented words clearly but it was also far enough away that I didn’t feel like he was trying to share his face with mine. It was tactfully done, not romantic at all—it made it feel okay to be basically sitting in this stranger’s tan arms while gripping the metal bars for dear life against bumps on the street. Letting Bordeaux’s historic architecture run on either side like two tall rivers of stones and windows, we rafted down until we were spilled out into la Place de la Bourse, right passed La Foutaine de Trois Grace.
We had come to flat ground, finally. As we slowed so did the wind, but the calm and still two o’clock in the morning air didn’t sting my face with cold nor was the air warm enough to stir a single bead sweat—Bordeaux weather was absolutely killin’ it, and “perfect” was once again the only word to describe it.
It was the sound of his pedaling that woke me from the spell—where were my friends? I suddenly realized I hadn’t even looked back, that I’d left them behind with only with the echoes of my giggles as I cascaded down the stone streets into oblivion.
I switched my attention back to his pedaling, which was gradually laboring more and more: “Wow, that was awesome. Thanks so much, that was so fun. Um, but should I get off now? It’s okay, I know it’s not downhill anymore. Should I get off?” I lost all my cool, sitting there vomiting english as I looked for street signs to text to Lisa.
“No it’s fine. This is okay. I’ve done this loads of times.” Oh. His honesty stumped my rapid escape planning, and it took a second for me to realize I was… hurt. I privately took revenge by taking away some of the points he earned from the not-getting-my-hair-in-his-mouth thing. Oh, “loads of times” then. Loads of times. With his stupid I-learned-english-from-a-british-person French accent. LOAAAADS of ti–
I cut myself off mid-thought. Was I actually that hurt though? In a way I was sort of relieved. I had been expecting to counter a “No ma chere, you are as light as a feather and should stay atop my bike forever because you are the only American girl for me.”
Cuz, well you know, the French are supposed to say that or something. I thought I was gonna have to charmingly yet apologetically laugh and slither my way down, hop off and say “Oh you’re so sweet! Tres gentil! Mais non, merci!” and run off calling Irene before he could say “BUT BAAAABE!”
But, no. No, instead he said really casually “I’ve done this loads of times.” I learned something about myself just then…
At first, the stereotypical girl in me needed to throw her private tantrum for being denied any specialty, but then… then the rest of my interior caught up. Aight, this fools’ chill. He’s not tryna.
And tryta he did not. I forced him to stop biking (he so needed a break but wasn’t going to admit it; I pretended my butt hurt) and walked beside him as he guided his bike with one hand, held his cigarette with the other, and talked about his ex-girlfriend of 5 years who had told him– not but two days ago– that he wasn’t The One for her. I took a better look at him.
Baptiste, that was his name. I watched Baptiste’s white teeth flash in the dark as he spoke about how hard it was to leave his house that night. I admired with artistic distance his dark features and curly dark hair as he confessed that his friends didn’t understand, that he had built a future with someone and now had no one and felt nowhere. He had a scar right over the bridge of his nose that—if I didn’t have someone else on my mind—would have made him really cute. His English was the most impressive I’d come across here, and yet sometimes his struggle for the right word let frustration leak out into an annoyed “No, it’s not like that!” when I tried to help.
He rejected my English, and I couldn’t speak his French; for once my response to someone’s confession of heartbrokenness had to be silence.
This quiet was a new experience for me, and so I was deeply startled when he suddenly changed the subject: how old was I?
“Oh. Well how old do you think I am?”
“Well I don’t know. 22?”
“21, close though.”
“Are you sure?”
I laugh, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure. What makes you ask?” Oh hell yeah, he thinks I’m twenty-two. Thinks I’m cool and stuff. Maybe thought I was twenty-five even.
“I think you much younger, really. You don’t seem that grown-up yet. You’re also very tired.”
I frowned. And I think the next American girl you perch atop your One-Man Bordeaux Bike Tour should get her frizzy red hair all up in your nose.
“You know for a French boy you aren’t that suave. Suave? I don’t know the French word for that. Anyway I think I see IBoat. I’m gonna give my friends a call and see where they are.”
But then I paused, a softer smile having fallen on my face, and looked into this eyes. There was not an ounce of romantic connection there, but I kept searching them for just enough recognition so that he’d maybe hear the truth of my words–
“But hey, I just wanna say thanks so much. That was so so cool. It was truly the most beautiful way to see the city.”
The rest of Katrina had caught up again.
All this soaring, all this traveling that I’m doing —it’s truly a dream, expectations exceeded; It’s a lot like how flying down the streets of Bordeaux under the stars with a cute boy would be. But the people you find yourself pinned-up right next to while you’re flying…. you’d be surprised at how they aren’t what you expected or what you’ve dreamt up.
You’d be as surprised, maybe, as I was by Monsieur Baptiste, the romance-less yet love-sick French boy who didn’t hate my hair.
It’s a wake-up call for when you’re really sleepy, this realization. I rallied and managed to party until 6 a.m.
Me, Katrina Nelson.
I sent some snaps to prove it.