Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Prudence in Paris

Asalamu Alaykom,

Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play

Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day

The sun is up, the sky is blue

It's beautiful and so are you

Dear Prudence won't you come out to play

This is a story about "Prudence."  That's not her real name.  No one names their daughter "Prudence" any more.  We don't actually seem to want daughters to be prudent.  We want them to live for today; to be in the 'now' of the moment and enjoy their life.  Planning for the future isn't for Isbella and Oliva.

"Prudence" however is the perfect name for this woman because she was always the one to be smart about her affairs.  Maybe "always" is overstating.  In her teenage years, she had been the wild child who ran around with a patcholi-scented crowd of artists and musicians.  She was their mascot of sorts.  She was still in high school when she was learning how to avoid getting arrested when the clubs let out.

She was one of those students who trouble teachers; not because she was naughty but because she was so bright.  "If only she'd apply herself," they'd say to each other.  She never did.  She never went on to college either.  She didn't even try.

What she wanted to do was travel.  She had a dream to travel to France and be alive among the backdrop of Diva, her favorite movie.  She wanted to sip tea on a sidewalk cafe, butter a bagette and drive off in a white Citreon.  So she began what would become her undoing.  She began to save for that trip.

At first, she started an accoutant's ledger book for her tips.  She would waitress and collect the dollar bills, quarters, dimes, nickles and pennies.  While other waitresses scoffed at small change, she thought of each offering as a step towards her goal and carefully tucked them away.  She would not consider using any of the change to ride the bus.  She would walk home.  It was a long walk.  She decided that it was good for her health.

She lived in a small apartment.  Even when she was promoted to being the manager of the restaurant, and had enough money to get a nicer place in a better neighborhood, she stayed put.  She stayed where she was because she was saving for her trip to France. 

She told everyone her dream, as if it was to make up for the smallness of her apartment and the smallness of her life.  She would not be working in the restaurant forever.  She would be the one to travel to France and see the sights.  It wouldn't be just a week or two.  She would be gone a summer as in, "summering in France."  People could do that if they prepared.

Prudence was preparing.  She took language courses.  She took art history courses.  She even learned how to play songs on the accordian.  She spent her time perfecting her mind and body so that she would be ready for France.  It was a process.  It took years.  Eventually, the years took decades.

There was the short-lived marriage which almost derailed her dream.  She had married a man who reminded her of the past.  He was a singer who overspent, overslept, and did drugs.  She married him because he promised to take care of her.  He couldn't even take care of himself so it wasn't the wisest decision.  It might have even been the stupidest.

She felt so stupid when it ended.  Prudence had not planned for a marriage let alone a divorce.  The experience took thousands of dollars to start, thousands of dollars at the end and almost two years to finish.  She made a vow to never let another man in to her quiet world.

She turned to cats for comfort.  Cats didn't need as much effort.  They were cute and fun without all the baggage.  They were fuzzy children.  Yes, they were like her children.  She decided that she didn't need children.

She didn't need so many things.  Her life became more streamlined and exact.  Her routines became almost a kind of ritual.  She began to log what she bought and what she ate.  She was happy knowing how much she spent and how much she saved.  She felt in control.

Going out was unnecessary.  There was no need to eat at a restaurant if you could make the food at home so much cheaper.  There was no need to go to a movie theatre if you could borrow tapes and later DVDs from the library.  That DVD player had been a big extravagance for Prudence.  She couldn't make the purchase without hesitation.

In fact, she couldn't do much without wondering if she was doing it correctly.  She began to feel that each step was either in the right direction or the wrong direction.  "How would that affect my life?" was her constant thought.

Her relationship with Thom took her by surprise.  She didn't need or want him but somehow he entered into her life anyway.  He'd been a friend of a friend for years so there was no hint that he was going to be anything more.  At first, he was just sitting on her couch to watch movies and he was welcome as a fellow audience member.  They liked the same genres and laughed at the same jokes.  They could ridicule bad movies together and talk endlessly about the ones they enjoyed.

Then came the moment she was both excited for and dreading:  she would show Thom her favorite movie.  She put in the Diva DVD and sat down.  She had never tried to show the movie to her ex.  He was more Ren and Stimpy than foreign films.  This man was different.  They shared the experience and the distance on the couch dissapeared.  They even talked about her dream to travel to France.

It became their dream together.  They counted their money and figured on another year's wait.  They could go but they would need that much more in savings.  She had been delaying the trip for over twenty years so another year didn't really seem to matter. 

Besides, the planning of the trip would need a lot of attention on her part.  She wanted everything just right.  She didn't want the dream to explode in her face.  She needed it to go well.  Thom had little say in the matter but then he wasn't the kind of man to make plans. 

A year passed quickly; the way boring lives move forward.  Each day was crossed off on the kitchen calendar until at last the month of departure arrived.  The anxiety was palpitable.  It was hard to focus at work and hard to think about anything other than the trip.  She was finally going to France!

I saw Prudence after the trip.  Once she returned we reconnected.  I was so happy for her to have lived her dream.  Except, she wasn't happy.  She was crushed.  Nothing had gone as planned.  The experience was marred from the moment they touched down.  I listened to a long list of complaints. 

Her French wasn't good enough.  She had thought that those lessons would be all she'd need.  She forgot how very few conversations she'd ever practiced.

The people really were unhelpful and unwilling to go that extra mile for a tourist.

Her ability to read maps and travel the metro was non-existant.  She got lost more times than she had patience to endure.  She had cried a couple of times when the going got tough and Thom got going.  Thom was able to keep flexible and fun and she wasn't. 

It was hard to find food that was vegan.

It was hard to find places that weren't overcrowded.

The flat they had rented for June and July was next to a club and loud every night.  Why hadn't she realized that before?  She didn't sleep well.  Paris was all loud with cars and shouts and it was dirty too.  She hasn't known the true city; she had only known the cinematic version.  She stopped wanting to go out and explore. 

Instead of going with the flow, as she had as a young girl, she looked in the mirror and admitted she was middle-aged woman.  She was on the trip she should have taken years ago.  All those years of delaying gratification turned her the kind of person who couldn't enjoy a summer in City of Lights.  She had built her whole life around the idea that this trip would be the highlight of her life.  Instead, it left her wondering about all the various mistakes she had made along the way.   

She had scrimped and saved her way to Paris and in the end she had been unable to find happiness.  There was no gold at the end of the rainbow.  She left for home a broken-hearted woman.

Upon her return, she didn't want to admit to anyone that she had hated the trip.  Thom didn't even want to speak to her.  She didn't know what to say to him anyway.  It was embarrassing to not be the person you thought you were.

Prudence now had a huge void in her life because the big plan had been played out.  She didn't want to go to work because she didn't know why she was working anymore anyway.  She called in sick.  Everything stopped.

The only thing she could  think to do was to watch Diva another time.  She cried when she saw the places on the screen which reminded her of the trip.  Why hadn't she been able to enjoy her time?  As the movie credits rolled, she thought of the character of the postman who steals the dress from the Diva's dressingroom.  He just wants to be close to her beauty.  That's all Prudence had wanted from Paris.  She had just wanted to experience it firsthand; to touch it and taste it so she could feel the beauty of France herself.

She looked down at her cat and itched behind his ears.  It was a beautiful black cat.  Prudence looked at him as if for the first time.  He really was special and she loved him.

She looked around her living room and for the first time realized that she was where she should be.  There wasn't a flat on the Cornice calling to her anymore.  She didn't like living in Paris.  She liked Toledo.

She went out to the kitchen to make some tea.  She looked at her used tea bag on the counter; waiting for her to brew it up again.  She started to reach for it and then once holding it made the sudden decision to throw it away.  No.  She would get a new tea bag.  She deserved a fresh pot of tea with all the flavor possible.

Prudence looked out her window and saw her life anew.  She sipped slowly and savored the view.



MarieHarmony said...

Wonderful story Yosra. Firstly you write very well.
Secondly there is a lot to reflect on from Prudence's life. It took her so many years to feel content in her heart, but this is a great lesson for us all.
Thank you so much........It took me ages to read it or maybe I was only meant to read it now!

Hope you are well dear. take care and have a beautiful day.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Marie,

I appreciate you taking the time to read the story.

My fiction doesn't appear very often on the blog and it never gets a lot of fanfare. For me, I keep writing it because the stories stay inside me bugging me until I jot it down.

I am good, alhumdulillah and even better for knowing that you stopped by :)

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Marie,

I appreciate you taking the time to read the story.

My fiction doesn't appear very often on the blog and it never gets a lot of fanfare. For me, I keep writing it because the stories stay inside me bugging me until I jot it down.

I am good, alhumdulillah and even better for knowing that you stopped by :)

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