Sunday, July 21, 2013

Extract from "Play Me A Love Song"


Greta Bondieumaitre

Chapter One

     “So here’s my stop. I’ll talk to you later,” I say to Claude, an ex-colleague I was walking with before I spotted the Giga Music store on Rue de la Folie.
     “Okay, well, I’ll see you sometime. You know, we still miss you at the restaurant. You should come see us one of those days,” he says, waving as he continues on his way, leaving me standing nervously in front of the small music store’s windows. I stare at it a few moments, before taking in a deep breath and walking in. The automatic doors open and close behind me with a small swish as I enter into the dark interior of the store.
     Bonjour,” I announce to the gray-haired lady behind the counter. She isn’t very courteous and barely casts me a glance. A little flustered, I rub my hands together and take a look around at the array of guitars hanging from every wall.
     I’ve been here before. It was to buy a small microphone for my PC. And the atmosphere was the same—not very friendly. This lady should really work on her customer-communication skills.
     “Can I help you?” a male voice asks from behind me. I can’t believe it, but I almost jump out of my skin. Don’t know what got into me. I whirl around to find a tall brown-skinned man with really deep dark eyes whom I hadn’t seen the last time I was here. He must be the new sales guy.
     “Yeah, uh, yes,” I stutter without pausing to think. “I’m looking for a guitar.”
     “For you?” he asks matter-of-factly.
     I hesitate before answering. What am I doing? I can’t even identify the strings of the guitar. I can only play one-half song! I bite back my pride, hoping he won’t ask anything about tones or whatever.
     “What price range are you looking at?” Another awkward moment. I hate to admit that I want the cheapest product anywhere, but I don’t have a choice. A guitar is not a necessity and I am working on a budget. Again, I bite back the sour taste of my pride being drained from me.
     “Umm … What’s the lowest you’ve got?”
     He smiles at me charmingly and grabs a guitar from the hook and starts to play around with it, hitting some high notes, then lower ones. I guess that’s what they call tuning a guitar.
     “This is a good one. And it only costs one ninety,” he announces. Only costs one hundred and ninety Euros! Who does he take me for, a millionaire? Is it the English accent? French people always think English people are rich. And I’m not even really English—St. Lucian, to be exact. I chew on my bottom lip in agitation. I absolutely hate to disappoint cute salesmen.
     I remember when I went into the optician’s place once, just to check out the range of prices, and ended up buying three pairs of eyeglasses on credit, just because the sales guy was super cute and he had deep gray eyes, which looked right into me. I broke a pair two weeks later just so I could bring it back and probably flirt with him. Of course, I dressed to kill. When I got there a nerdy man in thick Coke-bottle glasses told me Mr. Cute Sales Guy no longer worked there.
     So, he’s fixing me with a brown stare awaiting my response. What the heck am I going to say? I can’t buy this guitar now. I only have one fifty and I can’t exactly ask him to give me a discount. I’ll look cheap and broke—the latter of which I am. Maybe I could just smile and tell him I’ll come back for it. I try to think fast, casting a glance at the gray-haired lady at the counter, who isn’t paying us any attention. Just as well.
     “Hmm?” he insists, and I turn to face him. His hair looks so soft and curly and he has the cutest birthmark ever on his left cheek. Heck, I’m gonna’ take that guitar!

     How did I end up in this music shop that would change my life for good? It’s so complicated that I don’t even really want to get into it. But just so you understand what my life was like before I bought my precious guitar, I’m going to tell you.
     It all started a week ago when my “boyfriend,” Moham, introduced me to his old guitar and taught me one of his compositions that I fell in love with, as I had with him. I was really pissed off that day after having not seen him for the last two weeks. But when I held his old guitar in my arms for the first time, I realized that was exactly the distraction I needed to avoid feeling so lonely and abandoned. The feeling of power that came with holding an instrument with so much authority was exhilarating.
     I guess since I mentioned Moham, now I have to tell you more. Okay … I met Moham two and a half months ago. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, having just gotten out of two confusing, complicated relationships and survived a heartbreak (that’s no longer important). We met at a rollerblading rink and made an appointment to go rollerblading together the next week. I didn’t think anything of him at first, just that he seemed nice, had a nice muscular body—and that I didn’t want a man. Well, we hung out for a couple of days and got to know each other.
     He was a young fireman and lived only thirty minutes away from my home. At that time, he’d been on vacation, so we took the opportunity to see more of each other.  Somehow he managed to get into my panties and the rest of me.
     But now, his vacation is over. He’s back at work at nights and at school during the day. He’s obsessed with passing his “upgrading” course, and apparently not even I can stand in his way. So basically, I see him once a week and sometimes less. Over the past three weeks I’ve been stressed to the point of wanting to cut my hair out—bald! What, with being unemployed for six months and suffering from LOF (lack of friends) disease. Hence the reason Moham suggested that I find an activity.

     Now I rush out of the music store to get to the bank before it closes. Heck! How do I end up embarrassing myself like this all the time! I asked the salesman to charge the guitar to my Visa card, which happens to have a glitch at the moment. He tried it three times. Finally, when I thought I would die of embarrassment, I decided to go to the cash point instead. I should have thought of that first.
     “Excuse me!” I shout through the shut door at a short balding man behind the counter at the bank. He waves me away. I knock loudly and he finally approaches and cracks the door open—not enough for me to get through.
     “We’re closed,” he states simply.
     “I’m sorry, but doesn’t this bank close at four normally?” I insist.
     “We had to close early today. Sorry. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.”
      My eyes open in horror at his words, but he doesn’t seem affected.
      I consider my options whilst he stares at me. The next branch is at the other end of town. By the time I get there, the music store will be closed. The salesman will think I took him for a ride and I won’t be able to show my face that side of town again. I stare down Mr. Baldy. Who ever heard of a bank that didn’t have a cash point outside?
     Suddenly I’m furious. I need that guitar—today! I push pass the astounded man, who is almost filling the doorway and shove my way into the interior. Before he can shout for security, I am already running to the cash point at the far end of the room, my Visa card in hand.
     I tap my security code quickly as the bulky security guard walks toward me, the same time as a furious Mr. Baldy.
     Hurry! Hurry! My heart crashes repeatedly into my rib cage. What had taken over me! I think I’m beginning to go crazy!
     “Madame, you are not authorized to be in here,” the security guard says gravely just as the machine spits out my money. Whew! I turn around and smile nervously at him.
     “I’m sorry, but this man over here”—I point in the direction of Mr. Baldy. His face is an angry red—“is really harsh. And I have an emergency. I need this money.” I wave the fresh wad of cash at him. “And besides, it’s mine.”
     “Okay, that’s enough. Could you step outside please?” he asks, frustrated, and to my horror tries to take me by the elbow. I rush away from him as fast as my small heels will allow.
     “I’m going, I’m going!” I reach for the door and almost run out into the late afternoon sunlight. That’s one branch I’m not going to be visiting soon!
     I walk into the music store, relieved that it is still open, my forehead beaded with sweat. Heck! I don’t even have a tissue and the salesman has already spotted me. He waves me over and I walk slowly toward him, digging in my handbag for my money.
     “Is that a karaoke software?” I hear myself ask him, pointing to a red and white box atop a shelf labeled “No Voice,” as he inspects the guitar for any faults.
     “Yes, you like singing?”
     I nod hesitantly. “I’ll take that, too,” I say and a big smile spreads across his face. I think about what else I could get if only so he could smile some more.
     “You’re trying to set up a studio at home?”
     “Nah, no, not really. I’m just learning with the guitar.”
      He nods, and puts the guitar in its case and hands it to me. I hold it awkwardly in my hand, not really knowing what to do with it.
     “It’ll be easier if you put it on your shoulder,” he suggests, grinning at my chagrined smile. I quickly switch the guitar from my hand to my shoulder and turn to leave.
     “Aren’t you forgetting something?” I turn around and he’s holding my “No Voice” box. I sigh miserably. Why am I such a klutz? By that time I feel so stupid I just want to get out of there. I can’t even look him in the eye. I just need to go home and lie down. But when he hands me the software, he holds on to it longer than necessary and I look up at him. There is something strange in his gaze that I can’t identify. He’s no longer smiling or grinning, no longer the “salesman.” It’s as if he understands what I’m feeling right now.
     “If you need help with your guitar lessons, you could come here on an afternoon and we’ll practice together. By the way, I’m Jonathan.”
     My eyebrows shoot skyward at that and I would like to feel my heart soaring at his suggestion. But I’m still crushed by my clumsiness and the events of the day that I just don’t care anymore. It’s obvious nobody taught me how to behave in the presence of good looking men. My mother would be so disappointed.
     I whisper, “Thanks, I’ll think about it. I’m Gina,” and make for the door.
     As I walk home, guitar on one shoulder, my box of “No Voice” in hand, I’m hoping this will be enough of a distraction to keep me from humiliating myself for a long while.

     Saturday night finds me sitting in the small ground-floor apartment where I live alone, wondering what about Moham I like so much. There are tears in my eyes and I feel like a good cry. I’m so lonely. I don’t want to comfort-eat, because I’m trying to lose some weight. I feel hopeless and abandoned.
      I’ve tried to call Moham ten times, but he isn’t answering. I’m hoping his excuse is work. He isn’t responding to any of my text messages either. Every time I check the phone and there’s no new message, I feel like a mashed potato. I feel like throwing away my cell phone! What’s the point of having it if I can’t get in touch with the person I need the most right now.
     I hate myself for being so dependent on someone who obviously doesn’t care about me or else he’d be here. I walk into the kitchen slowly, dejectedly and look in the refrigerator. Good thing I don’t keep comfort foods around or else I’d be a stuffed potato instead of a mashed one right now. I walk back into the room and collapse onto the bed. Maybe I’ll drown in my sorrows and die during the night.
     The next day brings no comfort to my tortured soul. Instead of feeling better, I get up with a stuffed nose and rush to the pharmacy to nip the bug before it gets a good hold.
     I have so many things to do today, but I come straight home from the pharmacy and take two paracetamol tablets. I start to gather my documents to go out later to the various offices and organizations.
     The phone rings out rudely and I jump. There’s drool on the side of my face and I am lying face down on the couch. Those paracetamol tablets gave me a good hit.
     I don’t bother to take the call, because it’s already ten o’clock and I’m going to miss most of my administrative appointments.
     An hour later, I hurry through one office to the next, one sour receptionist to the next until I am so exhausted I don’t feel like walking home. I decide to take the bus and save myself some stress. I wait sourly for ten minutes until it comes along and I get in hurriedly without paying close attention to its exact spot on the line up. I sit myself behind a skinny old man and rest my head on the back of his seat. I don’t get up when the bus pulls out of the bus stop, but two minutes later I realize that it’s going uphill.
     This is not right. We’re not supposed to be there yet.  My head is so heavy that I don’t feel like looking up, but I finally do and it’s just as I feared. I’ve taken the wrong bus.
     I get off grudgingly at the nearest stop and have to walk home through the back road after all. At that point, I’m not even upset anymore. I’m working on automatic. If I get annoyed, I’ll get hysterical, and that, I don’t need right now. The town fades into a residential area as I walk, paying no attention to details and the persons going the other way. This feels just like my life. I’m passively watching as I grow older, my life passing me by, shooting straight down the drain. 
     Soon, I’m unlocking my apartment door. The door opposite opens before I’m in and my elderly neighbor pops her head out.
     “I thought it was you,” she says. “The landlady passed a little while ago. She asked you to call her.” I nod and close the door in her face. Just what I needed to complete a day from hell. I head straight for my bedroom and bury my face in my pillow.

     My karaoke software isn’t working. I was in such a hurry to purchase it that I forgot to check the systems requirements. This software only works with Windows XP, and I have Vista. Problem: I’ve already torn up the box! Way to go, girl!
     I dress quickly in black skinny jeans and an orange mini T-shirt and head down to the music store. I hope there’s something Jonathan can do for me. Jonathan …  I haven’t even had the time to think of him since the day I bought the guitar at his store. I’ve been so down that I haven’t even had time to think of me. It’s way past time for a change.
     I put on a bright smile two buildings away from the music store. It is a Wednesday afternoon. I bought the guitar a week and half ago. I’m hoping he remembers me. I walk into the store gallantly, hoping the distress of the past few days doesn’t show. But the interior of the store is so dark and gloomy that I can’t help grimacing. I try to focus on the gray-haired lady sitting once again at the counter. I wonder if she’s Jonathan’s mother.
     Bonjour,” I greet her, and this time she responds in kind. “Is …”—I don’t want to call him by name, just in case she finds it too familiar—“the guy here?” I ask, feeling immediately silly.
     “Jonathan? Yes. Jonathan!” she shouts, looking up at the ceiling. I wait a little impatiently until footsteps are heard coming down the side stairs. Jonathan pops his head through the side doorway.
     “Yeah?” Then he sees me and smiles brightly. I’m so taken aback by this greeting that instead of smiling back or greeting him, I’m rooted in place, feeling and obviously looking confused. He approaches me and I catch myself.
     “Hi. Do you remember the software you sold me?”
     He nods, stopping just inches from me, and I remark at how tall he is. He stands at least a foot and a half taller than me, dabbing at his mouth delicately with a napkin. My eyes are drawn automatically to his wide, sexy mouth. Okay, I’m intimidated. I feel like forgetting all about the stupid software and getting the hell out of here.
     “Yes, the ‘No Voice’?” he asks before I can decide whether to run or not.
     I nod, grateful when he stops dabbing at his mouth and throws the napkin into a nearby bin.
      “Is there a problem with it?”
     “Um, actually, yes. It doesn’t work with Vista and I’ve already thrown the box. I’m so silly,” I say, chuckling.
     “No problem. I’ll just call up the company and ask them to send me an update.” I nod. He is smiling at me again. Is he mocking me? I can’t believe he can be interested in me. Who would be? I mean, I’m not bad-looking, but I have huge thighs, a big butt and am half-crazy.
     “Just call me tomorrow morning,” he says, bustling into action, and gets me a flier with the store’s number on it.
     “Okay,” I say, taking the flier and jamming it into my handbag. I’m ready to say goodbye, but he leans back slightly on the counter and starts to speak to me as if he is in no rush to let me leave.
     “So, how are your guitar lessons going?”
     I hesitate, wondering if a lie would help.
     “Um, not too good.” I give him a nonchalant smile. “I’ve barely strung two notes together.”
     “Do you have a teacher?”
     “Um … no. I was hoping to self-learn.” I shrug.
     “In that case, I thought you’d take me up on my offer?”
     Heck! I’d forgotten about that. “Oh!”
     He shrugs at me. “Why not? I get really bored around here, and you don’t have a teacher, so I’d say it’s a win-win situation.”
     I nod slightly. “Okay, maybe next week.”

     At four thirty the next afternoon, I walk quickly to get out of the rain, my flip-flops going, “klip klop” on the wet pavement. A feeling of déjà vu comes over me as I head in the direction of the music store. I think twice about going in, but finally the need to get into a warm dry place wins out.
     Jonathan is alone this time. The gray-haired lady is nowhere to be seen. He gives me a surprised look as I walk in.  “Oh! I completely forgot. Weren’t you supposed to call me?”
     “Sorry, I lost the number,” I admit, leaning a little into the counter he’s sitting behind.
     “Okay. Well, it’s too late to call the company now. We’re six hours behind Paris, so I’ll have to do that tomorrow. Can you call me in the morning?”
     “I’ll try not to lose your number this time. By the way, can I have it again?”
     He laughs and places another flier in my outstretched hand.
     “So tomorrow then?” Why did that have to sound so much like a date?

     Today I’ve found new motivation for living. After all, it’s Friday. Maybe I’ll even go out tonight. And maybe I just might meet Mr. Right and forget about Moham. The most I’ve heard from him in the past two weeks is one lousy text message saying he’s sorry about not coming to see me but he has projects for the future that can’t wait. In short, he won’t come. I feel so much better. Yeah right!
     I wish I could hate him. That way it’d be easier to forget about him and end the dependence crisis.
     In any case, I’m not going to think about him today. I’m an attractive twenty-four-year-old, almost single St. Lucian woman in a magnificent little Paris in the Caribbean. All the gorgeous Martiniquais/French men are dying to go out with me, and I’m pining over someone who’s only 5 centimeters taller than I am, who doesn’t spend money on me and who never has time. How much lower can I get?
     So I’m headed to the pharmacy to buy some makeup. If I want to feel at my best tonight, I need makeup to cover the few marks on my face left by late-teens acne. I speak with confidence to the pharmacist who is helping me pick out the right shade for my light brown tone. She proposes a creamy one that matches my shade perfectly, along with dazzling blue eye shadow. I am so happy about my purchases that I am skipping along the street on my way home.
     I live just outside of downtown Fort-de-France, so instead of taking the bus for a three-minute ride, I walk, hoping my efforts will tone my thighs a little. I don’t think it’s really working at the moment, but it’s always nice to take a pleasant walk on a late afternoon.
     I am so deep in my thoughts, still skipping along, that I don’t notice someone beckoning to me from a deep-red family car.
     “Hey!” a male voice says laughingly from the passenger seat. I approach slowly. It’s Jonathan.
     “Hi,” I say slowly, looking into the car. There are two little boys in the back and a young woman at the steering wheel. I say hello to her but wonder why Jonathan would call me over in the presence of his family. He has a family?
     “After your phone call this morning, I managed to download the update for you. Do you have a flash drive or something to save it on?” he asks me nonchalantly and too friendly for my liking. What if this is really his girlfriend and kids? What must she be thinking about him being so nice to me?
     I can’t imagine what my face must look like, because I am very uncomfortable with the situation. Looking down at my clothes, I am even more flustered and embarrassed. I have on baggy Bermudas that make my wide butt look even wider, especially with the big sleeveless Idon’tgiveafuckwhatanyonethinks T-shirt I have on. Guess who gives a fuck now.
     “Okay. Well, I’ll bring it by tomorrow then.” I suddenly remember to smile. I wave and walk off a little less enthusiastic than before.

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