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Authors: Sebastian Hampson

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The Train to Paris

BOOK: The Train to Paris
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The Train to Paris

SEBASTIAN HAMPSON was born in 1992 in Auckland, New Zealand. He grew up in Wellington, has lived in Europe, and is currently studying art history and literature at Victoria University.
The Train to Paris
is his first novel.

The
Train
to
Paris

Sebastian Hampson

textpublishing.com.au

The Text Publishing Company
Swann House
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000 Australia

Copyright © Sebastian Hampson 2014

The moral rights of the author have been asserted.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

First published in 2014 by The Text Publishing Company

Cover and page design by WH Chong
Typeset by J&M Typesetting

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Author: Hampson, Sebastian
Title: The Train to Paris / by Sebastian Hampson.
ISBN: 9781922147790 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781922148780 (ebook)
Subjects: Love stories.
Voyages and travel—Fiction.
Dewey Number: A823.4

This project has been assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

To my brother Rafe Hampson

Part I

1

Five hours and fifty-one
minutes after my departure I arrived at the border. It was a Friday afternoon at the end of August and things could have been worse. Most people would admire the charming Basque town of Hendaye, with its sunbaked terraces and terracotta roofs, and I wanted to be most people. I wanted to describe the idyllic scene before me even though I could not see it clearly. The town drifted into view from beyond a mess of overhead wires and signal boxes, and I was so preoccupied by the matter at hand that only a few details remain with me. Pastel-coloured buildings cascaded down to the waterfront, while the shuttered villas that stood on the bluff were the vestiges of wealth long since spent. Hendaye was out of kilter and I had no desire to linger there.

The train pulled in on the Spanish side of the station, which was barricaded from the French by a wire fence. This seemed a strange precaution when the French did not bother with passport control. I suspected it was more psychological than practical, a reminder that we were all crossing into unfamiliar territory.

I was among the first off the train. I made straight for the ticket office, along with two women whom I presumed were in the same strife. My ticket took me no further than the end of the Spanish line. The women must have noticed my panic—one of them asked if I was going to Paris. ‘I hope so,' I said.

Both women had tans. I wondered where they might have acquired them. Certainly not Madrid. Nobody wanted to go to Madrid at this time of the year. I imagined they had taken a hotel in one of those purpose-built Mediterranean resort towns I had seen in advertisements.

Queuing—practically a way of life in this part of the world—gave me a chance to take in the surroundings. The station was bare and not exactly clean. Monet would have brushed over the finer points and left a hazy concourse filled with faceless people, but Daumier would have seen more: a paper napkin sliding across the ground in a draft, catching under the hard wooden benches that were cordoned off and labelled,
Transit Area
.

It was the dankest part of the station and I had to wonder why any transit passenger would choose to sit there. I knew very little about this station, or the town of Hendaye for that matter, except that this was where Hitler, Franco and von Ribbentrop had met. That was appropriate enough.

The day was mild because of the raw, steely breeze that rolled in from the Atlantic. It was a relief from the scorched plains of Madrid, but it was still too sunny for my liking.

The displaced Parisians had made it to a ticket officer. I could not understand the conversation, which was in Spanish, but it was heated. This filled me with dread. After they left empty-handed I made my trepidatious way forward. He was my mental image of a ticket officer—small and portly, with round spectacles and thinning grey hair. He had the usual air of impatience, as though my allotted time with him was the greatest privilege I could hope for.

‘Yes?' he said.

‘Yes, hello. I need a ticket to Paris.'

‘Paris? Today?'

‘Yes.'

‘No more to Paris this weekend.' I must have shown my confusion because he added an exasperated ‘Full' in English, complete with a hand gesture. I was conscious of my perspiring brow.

‘Is there nothing for the whole weekend?'

He motioned for the next in line to come forward. It was the end of the summer holidays. I should have known that every last Frenchman would want to go to Paris this weekend. How out of touch I was with the French timetable.

The departure board indicated that the next train to Paris was leaving in a quarter of an hour. It would have taken me there in time for a twilight drink at a café on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The next and last train for the day was not due for another two hours—that, I presumed, was also full.

There was nothing to be done, so I waited in the station hall with my fellow travellers, all of whom appeared as lost as I felt. There were no derelicts. This was not Paris, I reminded myself, where I had heard the homeless were routinely rounded up and dropped in the countryside. Nonetheless I held my luggage close. One bag contained my laptop and my travel documents—whatever use they were—and the other was a slim and sensible trolley case. I was twenty years old, but I might have been a Parisian financier on holiday.

The queue was not dwindling, and it was awkward to stand at the front of the concourse, as if on a stage. Everything around me was in motion. I went over to the ticket machine, thinking that it might be more helpful than the officer. I set about trying to operate it, despite my bad French and worse Spanish. A regional train to Dax was departing soon, and I considered catching it. Dax was at least a familiar name. I waved down an assistant who was heading for the station offices, and asked him if this place had an internet connection anywhere. He did not understand me, and he could do nothing more than direct me back to the ticket officer, despite my insistences that he was not helping me either.

I walked aimlessly into the station's atrium, a brutal glass addition to the original neoclassical building. I could see the high-speed train to Paris from my new vantage point. The concourse was emptying around me, and soon I counted only a few other people. I watched as the carriages slid out of view to reveal the Dax train at the opposite platform. I could go there. It was better to go somewhere than nowhere. But something told me it would also be better to stay in this inhospitable wasteland. I felt sure that something would turn up.

She entered the station, wearing a white leopard-print dress that was short enough to show off her legs. Her hair slid down the back of her neck in a curtain of gold, which shimmered as it passed through the updraft. There was a conspicuous ring on her finger.

I allowed my gaze to linger as she crossed the concourse, trailing a designer suitcase. Her heels reverberated with each step. She was thin and her muscles were lean, yet the dress fit tight and her thighs pressed against the folds. She joined the queue in the ticket office and lit up a cigarette, puffing out smoke as though it meant nothing to her. I imagined that she was used to standing before a camera. She removed a pair of butterfly sunglasses and hooked them into the neck of her dress. Her head turned and her eyes almost met with mine. I looked away.

A man sat next to me, so laden with luggage that he could have been creating a fortress around himself. His face was craggy and grey, and I felt him watching me. I pretended to busy myself, searching through travel documents for a non-existent answer to my problems. A fly landed on my arm and I flicked it away. My body was craving both coffee and water. There was no vending machine, no source of drink in this hellish building. But there was a photo booth. At least I would be able to take a passport photo, even if I died of dehydration.

Her confrontation with the balding ticket officer was also becoming heated. She was not the sort of person used to being denied. I saw her turn in profile as the officer did his best to explain himself. Now she was applying reason, having already shouted and implored.

The afternoon was young. I had time to go and explore the town. But above all else I needed a coffee. There was a café across the road from the station, with plastic chairs that looked as though they might collapse if anyone sat on them. The language of this region frustrated me—it was stuck somewhere between French and Spanish, but retained its own eccentric nuances. Seeing the name
Casa Miguel
printed next to
Brasserie
increased my disorientation. Casa Miguel was the place to be in this town: two people were at the bar. Every other shop was shuttered away from the heat.

I took a table by the window and ordered a
café crème
. In Paris they would disapprove of the use of such peasant-like terms, but here it was the right thing to do.

She had followed me out of the station and now crossed the road, treating the flaky white lines like a catwalk. Her stride was all confidence. I watched as she drew near. She could see me, but pretended not to as she entered the café. Her face was striking and somehow unconventional, her nose a perfect wedge. It stuck up over glistening lips and a flat chin that matched the sharp curve of her jaw. Her cheeks were firmer than most. They sat high, and their roundness suggested amusement. Her make-up was visible in the direct sunlight, done with attention to detail, neither underhand nor showy. Diamond bracelets and gold bangles glinted on her wrist. She dropped her suitcase beside the table and sat down opposite me.

‘You're buying me a drink,' she said in English.

I had trouble hiding my surprise.

‘I am?'

‘You are, yes. We are both in need of one.'

The other patrons of the café were staring at us, but she ignored them. I beckoned the waiter over.

‘I'm having a coffee,' I said to her. ‘What would you like?'

‘A real drink.'

‘Very well,' I said to the waiter, stammering my way through the French. ‘And a beer, too, for me.'

She asked for a Campari and soda, fixing me with a probing stare. I pretended to use a paper napkin to wipe my hands, when in fact I was pulling it apart beneath the table. I tried not to look into her eyes, which were dark hazel and hard as crystal.

‘What is your name?' she asked.

‘Lawrence. Lawrence Williams. Or Larry, whichever you prefer.'

‘You are a Lawrence.'

‘If you say so.'

BOOK: The Train to Paris
9.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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