I glance down at my watch, startled to see it is already way past two. Time for a change of scenery; an hour or two outside my own head. I grab a book, at random, from the teetering tower by my bedside, find my purse, and, noting the ominous colour of the sky, arm myself with an umbrella.
The rue de Belleville is a wasteland of shuttered shops and extinguished lights. Welcome to Paris in August. A whole city to myself, with the exception of the most obvious tourist traps, but much of it closed for business.
I hesitate outside a shabby looking Thai joint with a seven euro lunch menu which I have never eaten at before, usually favouring the flashier Thai further down the hill, which pulls in the crowds on the strength of a favourable review in the ’98 Routard.
A little girl with sleek black pigtails, presumably the proprietor’s granddaughter, captures my attention. She darts among the empty tables with her older sister, shrieking in a language I do not understand. She must be Tadpole’s age, give or take a few months. Momentarily overcome by a rush of tenderness for my own absent daughter, I picture her sleeping on her belly, fingers curled into a fist in front of her face.
I choose a window table, amused to see I am seated directly opposite the famous trompe l’oeil advertising hoarding. A perfect reading spot.
Opening my book I plunge into the first short story and am slowly but surely reeled in, the sound of the girls playing receding as I become increasingly indifferent to my surroundings. When my food arrives, I am brought back to reality with a jolt, but luckily have the presence of mind to request cutlery, so I can keep one hand free to turn the pages as I bring forkfulls of beef and lemongrass salad to my lips.
An hour later I tip the owner and set off back home, resolving to eat out alone more often. With regular practice, maybe I’ll be able to master book in one hand, chopsticks in the other.
There’s something worthwhile to aspire to.