Two Years Later

PARIS, France — “Promise me you’ll come to Paris,” she managed to say in between strides. Each step was swift and fleeting. We were chasing time, trying to catch the opening of a puppet show. It was astonishing how we could still have a conversation in the middle of the erratic barrage of motorbike traffic that ruled the streets of Hanoi.

Her name is Josephine. We never planned to travel together. Our story began not in Vietnam but 2300 kilometers away. Both solo backpackers, we met at a hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and parted ways only after four days. In a delightful twist of fate, as I roamed around Luang Prabang’s night market a week later, I bumped into her again. We agreed to take the rest of the trip together and shared a room all the way through. An unlikely duo: a gay guy from Manila and a beautiful woman from Paris with nothing much in common.

It was difficult not to feel attached to a constant companion, especially given that we endured a 27-hour bus ride from Luang Prabang to Hanoi together. We exchanged tragic tales and triumphant stories, marked achievements and abandoned dreams, guilty pleasures and pet peeves. You should work for Louis Vuitton, I suggested. You should walk down the diplomat path, she insisted. Some people just give up, I stated. People don’t give up for no reason, she said. Britney or Christina: Christina. Britney or Christina: Lana. Yeah, Lana.

“You’re a French guy in an Asian body,” she told me after flooding her ears with admiring words about Francois Truffaut and the French New Wave. “Come to Paris. My apartment is just a block from the Louvre.”

In two years, I said to her, in two years.

Two years later, after a night with Raphael and Da Vinci, I find myself navigating across the blocks between the Louvre and her apartment. It has been two long years, but the wait has felt much longer. She opens the door and I am greeted by the sweet smell of a hearty dinner. Her mom is in the kitchen.

“I promised you 2014. Here we are,” I say. A piece of bread on the table, the scent of red wine swirling in a clear glass, the sound of laughter lingering in the air.

Her mom pours soup into my bowl. “You’re lucky,” she says as-a-matter-of-fact-ly. “At this time of the year, Paris is such a gloomy place to be in. It’s the Capital of Depression. But it looks like you brought with you some sunshine from the tropics.”

They ask me how the city had been treating me. Great, I reply. No rude locals that Josephine warned me about.

“Not even the waiters?”

Not even the waiters. Everyone has been very accommodating and helpful so far. It is my fourth night in town. “That’s a shock,” she blurts out. She then shares pieces of the journeys she had taken after we separated. We talk about our trip across Southeast Asia and all the people we met along the way. We talk about that 27-hour bus ride, still an unbeaten personal record. We talk about the hostel in Chiang Mai where we met and the gay cabaret show they dragged me into… for two straight nights. We talk about the sunset by the Mekong River.

We never had a picture together anywhere during that month-long trip as I had always stayed behind the camera at our every stop.

The cigarette smoke that filled the room begins to thin. Josephine offers to walk me to the nearby metro station. Just two years prior, we were walking through a Vietnamese night market tackling yet again the probability of me setting foot on Parisian soil. “My mom is going to love you. She’s always wanted to have a gay son,” she joked then.

I reach my hotel room and message her, “We didn’t have a photo together this time either.” The entire time I was with them, I waited for a lull in the conversation for a photo op, but it never came. It has been a lovely, lively evening.

“My mom loved you, by the way” she shares. “Next time, we’ll take an Eiffel Tower selfie for sure.”

There will be a next time, I promise. And I don’t break promises.

Comments

  1. Wow! Feels like I can read all your posts in one sitting. A storyteller traveler. A rare find. God bless and good luck!

  2. Enjoyed reading this beautiful vignette of your travel in France. That’s what I like about traveling: meeting new friends. Excited for my first vacation in a foreign land this April.

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