An Egyptian in Blois

Blois is not a place tourists generally intend to stay for too long in while visiting France. In fact, it’s very much a “pass through” type of town–a pit stop on the way to Chateau de Chambord. It didn’t take Addison and Grace very long to realize this as they exited the train station and crossed the street to the bus stop that was supposed to take them easily to the castle. But then, one soon learns that nothing is ever actually easy in Europe.

It had been Addison’s idea to come to the Loire Valley, but it was Grace who was more vehement about the Chateau de Chambord, as it was a name and image that had long appeared to her on wine bottles brought home by her father, a distributor in the alcohol field. It had beckoned to her subconscious while she was still young, and she was determined that this was an attraction they ought to see apart from, among others, Leonardo Da Vinci’s burial place in Amboise. Addison was amenable; they were still within the first sixteen months of their coupledom, and he wanted to please her. When they disembarked from the train, it was instantly clear that there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment in Blois, especially since it was off-season. Addison also hadn’t accounted for the bus’ delay, which soon seemed to translate to: never coming at all.

As they waited, Grace read calmly from Émile Zola’s Germinal while Addison studied the schedule and paced, hoping someone–whether a passerby or potential fellow passenger–would make a cameo to indicate that the bus was operational. It was about fifteen minutes before Ammon appeared, wearing noticeably worn jeans and a blue parka. His station in life was obvious from the way he dressed, and it immediately drew Grace’s attention away from her book. As Addison proceeded to engage Ammon in conversation, Grace bristled. She didn’t trust strangers. Though, ultimately, she knew someone close to you could betray you just as easily.

Ammon was able to communicate adequately enough in broken English, telling Addison that the bus was usually late, and that it shouldn’t be long now. He then capitalized on Addison’s natural and sick ability to draw people out by telling him that he had only recently moved to France by way of Egypt, some small town outside of Cairo that Grace couldn’t quite catch the name of. The entire time Ammon talked, he barely acknowledged Grace. She couldn’t discern whether this was for cultural reasons or as a result of her steely aura. It was a wonder that even Addison had been able to penetrate her (both figuratively and literally). She didn’t tend to open up to just anyone, and she rather loathed that Addison did. Emotional promiscuity was a sign that no one you talked to was really all that special to you, that you had no perspicacity when it came to who you employed your heart and trust with. Grace had been noticing this about Addison rather more frequently on their French sojourn, which was to total three weeks. Their day in Blois marked the beginning of week two. At this rate, Addison would be going back to America with someone else. He was just so damn affable and appealing to everyone. Knowing him, he’d let a French girl pay him to get married for U.S. citizenship. The bottom line was, Grace was starting to see Addison. And what she saw was what Holden Caulfield would definitely deem a phony. Or at least a con man of the traveling salesman variety.

As he continued talking to the Egyptian, Grace noticed a bus approaching and eagerly rose from the bench. Finally, they would get to see the Chateau de Chambord. The schlep, the wait–it would all be worth it for the sight of this architectural masterpiece. But when the bus stopped, it was only so that the driver could tell Ammond, the person with the best working knowledge of French to communicate, that the bus wasn’t running. That was it. No explanation why, really. Or not one that made it in the translation. So waned the Chateau de Chambord ever further into the distance. They might as well have been back in the United States for as out of reach as it was right now. That is, until Addison suggested, “Let’s hitchhike.”

Grace shuddered at the thought. Her sense of adventure had already been pushed to the limit by this point. The last thing she wanted was to endure an inevitable robbery and/or murderer from taking a Texas Chainsaw Massacre approach to transportation. The 70s cautioned against trusting rides from others (as well as picking them up), and as far as she was concerned, it was still good advice. But Ammond, too, decided to weigh in, saying that he could accompany them in the car. Grace may not have known much, but she knew that the larger a group of hitchhikers, the less likely a driver would stop. She tried to tell Addison this with her eyes, staring daggers that he ignored. It seemed he was starting to like the idea of not having to worry about pleasing her. The romance was dying in France, irony of ironies.

Addison, still wrapped up in strategizing with Ammond, didn’t look over when Grace tugged at his sleeve like a helpless child. Ammond was the one who stopped talking to gaze at her, bringing Addison’s attention back to the fact that he had a girlfriend.

“I’m not hitchhiking.”

Addison looked incredulous. “But we came all this way. It would be foolish not to see it through.”

“I’ll settle for the Chateau de Blois instead. I don’t feel comfortable doing this.”

Addison looked from Grace to Ammond. It was as though he was weighing how much he was willing to be emasculated before responding back to Grace. Ammond shuffled from left to right in awkward response to the tension.

Finally, Addison responded, “Maybe you should stay here then while Ammond and I get to the castle.”

And stay Grace did, sitting at the only open restaurant–an Italian one, of all things, called La Scala. It would have to suffice while she waited for the next train. She would get on it with or without Addison. And by the time several hours had passed with nothing but Germinal to keep her company, she was hoping it would be with.

Later that night, when Grace had returned to the apartment they were subletting in Tours, she saw the news report. Two men (one American, one Egyptian) hitchhiking had been found in the wooded park near Chateau de Chambord, disemboweled and robbed by the presumable culprit of a recent rash of similar such murder-thieveries.

Well, Grace thought to herself, I suppose I’ll never see the chateau now.

 

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