It all started with a misunderstanding. Zara agreed to meet me at the bottom of the stairs of the Paris Opera, and I waited for 30 minutes at the bottom of the stairs of the Paris Opera.
Except that my sister Zara meant the old Paris Opera and I understood the new Paris Opera, also called the Opera Bastille. Technically I was right of course. The old Opera house has been converted into the home of the national ballet and replaced by the new Opera...but Zara was annoyed. She thought it was obvious that she meant the old Opera:
-"Anybody would understand that, Anna".
Zara is 6 years younger than me but she is the one who seems stuck in the past, oblivious to change, technology and time. It took us 30 minutes and 5 texts to realise our mistake. The two locations where 30 minutes apart by tube...and we could not really agree where and when to meet instead.
-"If you were my boy friend I would break up with you" I texted her in rage. But of course, she was my sister and you don't break up with your sister.
We finally agreed to meet in 20 mns time at Châtelet, in front of the "Fontaine des Victoires", which seemed unmissable and just in between the old and the new opera.
I decided to walk to Châtelet. Google maps indicated 25 minutes and I decided that I did not care to be 5 minutes late. I was a fast walker anyways.
As I was getting on my way, I heard a voice behind me.
-"Can you help me please?"
I turned around, it was a man carrying a violin case, may be 30 or 35, He had a slight accent and was staring at me. His eyes were strange.
-"Can you walk with me to Châtelet?"
This is when I noticed his white stick.
-"I heard your date was waiting at the old Opera house...happens all the time". He smiled softly.
-"Not a date, my sister" I said, taking his arm.
I had never before walked with a blind person other than a for a flittering moment, crossing a street, walking up and down stairs. We walked in silence. His arm was light but firm on mine. He walked fast and confidently. When we reached the Hotel Sully along Rue Saint Antoine, he started talking.
-"My name is Noah"
-"I am Anna"
-"You are good walker, Anna"
-"What is that suppose to mean?"
-"You walk naturally, not to slow. Often people slow down when they walk with me. They just think I cannot walk fast. As if having a handicap of some sort meant you had to do everything slower.'
His voice was raspy. He was born with a rare eye defect and lost his eye sight progressively. He felt his way through childhood. "Lots of bumps". He laughed. It went all dark when he was 14. "Not really dark" He explained. He described some shapes and lights, some luminous sounds, and told me he could see with his mind.
He was a musician, played the violin and was part of the Paris Opera resident orchestra. He lived close to Chatelet and was always hoping "for a walking ride".
-"I can actually walk on my own, but it is slower and a little tricky as it is a crowed areas with some complex crossing" he explained.
By Saint Paul's tube I told him I was glad he had asked me. At that point, I felt he was the one walking me. I wanted this walk to last forever. He squeezed gently my arm.
-"I think we are close to my drop off point, do you mind dropping me at the entrance of Rue Des Archives, on the right hand side?"
I stayed silent. I did not want to break the magic. Our rhythmic walk, his voice like music. I was wondering how he was seeing me in his head. I was neither pretty nor plain, had a nice smile, large eyes and good hair. But he could just see me with his mind. What did he see? Did he think I was young or old? Fat or slim?
His arm was soft warm and I thought I could feel the beat of his heart. He stopped and said:
-"Your arm is soft and warm Anna, and I can feel the beat of your heart"
I think I blushed a little. But of course it did not matter. We were at the entrance of "Rue des Archives" and his arm slowly circled me. Without hesitation his lips were on mine and we kissed, slowly and deeply.
-"Do you kiss all of your walkers" I whispered, my lips close to his.
He kissed me again, gently, smiling and said no with his head. Ten minutes later, my lips red and trembling I told my sister Zara it was love at first sight. I did not sleep at all that night, replaying our encounter times and times again, crossing the Bastille square, slowly, cautiously. Picking up the pace past Saint Paul tube station, his hand squeezing my arm, gently. Synchronising our pace arriving at Hôtel de Ville, his walk supple and rhythmic, as he was dancing with me. And then the kiss.
The next day, I went to the Opera Bastille and waited, scrutinising people who were coming in and out, hoping to see him. Would he guess I was there waiting? I waited until dark. He did not appear that day, the stairs were empty except for a couple on the bottom stairs, sharing some wine and cheese and stories.
I did not see him the next day nor the following one. I saw him coming out of the Opera three days later, holding his violin case in one hand, his white stick in the other, chatting with an old man. I was at the bottom of the stairs. I was hoping he would sense I was there and smile. He did not. The old man waved him goodbye and left. He waited for a little while on the stairs, balancing his feet. He then approached a blond woman who was texting. She looked at him and gave him his arm. She was tall and austere. They walked past me. I followed them from a distance, my heart beating.
She crossed the square confidently. The cars stopping and slowing down around them. By the time they passed the Saint Paul tube station, they were chatting and laughing like old friends. I wondered for a while if he knew her before.
I walked past a bakery, fifty meters behind them. The smell of fresh bread reminded me of our walk. His arm on my arm. I closed my eyes for a second. When I opened them, they were kissing, in a tight embrace, at the entrance of Rue des Archives. I watched them. I took a deep breath and turned around...When I reached Hotel Sully, I could not stop laughing.