Day 1

Day 1

A Chapter by Amanda

LeAnne traverses Paris on her way to Woodstock Hostel.


It was, perhaps, the worst day of her life. No, it was most definitely the worst day of her life. Without-a-doubt, hands-down, worst position she could possibly have found herself in.

Oddly enough, the exact position she found herself in was seated between two very good acquaintances at a table brimming over with marvelous pastries, sweet breads, and cured meats, in the banquet hall of perhaps the nicest, most luxurious hotel in Paris, France. The irony was palpable.

LeAnne March excused herself from the table under the premise of requiring seconds on her barely-touched breakfast. The buffet had cleared out entirely, save for one or two stragglers chatting pleasantly near the fruit bowls. LeAnne took a croissant indiscriminately from the top of a large pile of assorted, freshly-baked breads. She seized a butter knife and hacked an uneven split in the soft, flaky bread, and, reaching to the buffet trays on either side of the baked goods, began stuffing healthy portions of meat and sliced cheese in the two halves of her croissant. Then, folding it carefully in one of the hotel’s fine linen napkins, bypassed her plate and stuffed it in her purse. LeAnne glanced around to ensure that no overly-curious onlookers had noticed her, and then repeated the process hastily thrice more.

Ten minutes later, LeAnne returned to her friends with a plate full of fruit and cheese.

“I can’t believe we have to leave already,” the girl to her right whined in a nasally tone.

“Yeah,” the girl to her left responded smartly, “I can’t believe it.”

“You’re so lucky.” This comment was directed at LeAnne. “Ireland,” she scoffed with loathing envy.

“Ireland,” the other crooned dreamily.

LeAnne’s stomach lurched. Ireland. Ten whole days of Ireland. Lucky her.

“Have a Guiness for me, will you?” the girl to the right demanded with a playful wink, before getting up to refresh her coffee.

“Yeah,” LeAnne called back to her as she began walking away. “And I’ll say hey to Bono for you, too.”

LeAnne’s insides were a twisted knot of squirming nerves. She was going to die. It was as simple as that. But she smiled and chatted up her friends, throwing back grapes and cheeses between sentences to keep the butterflies at bay.

An hour later, the banquet hall was empty. Her hotel room was empty, save for one very ugly, badly damaged purple suitcase. LeAnne sat on one of the two queen beds, listening to the silence, and eying the suitcase intently, as though it might start speaking to her at any moment. This was it. This was her moment, sink or swim. The other students, all of her college friends and study abroad peers were on a charter bus headed to Charles De Gaulle. Yet, there was LeAnne, alone in a Parisian hotel with the silence pressing in around her, the minutes until checkout winding hastily down.

At 11:45 am, LeAnne gathered up her pastry-laden purse and purple suitcase and exited the hotel room. Not one single single-serving soap or shampoo had remained overlooked. All were cozily tucked at the bottom of her suitcase, which tottered awkwardly on its only two remaining wheels. The door closed behind her with a loud click that resonated with finality. The time had come.

LeAnne checked out of the hotel without incident and began her disparaged but determined sojourn. Her bag was heavy, difficult to manage with its two missing wheels and long-since broken drag-along handle. She had to crouch and walk uncomfortably, struggling with the weight and jagged groves in the sidewalk. Her journey would be long, clear across Paris. She would have to walk all day.

Three hours passed painfully void of event. LeAnne’s feet were gathering blisters, and she cursed her stomach for insisting on growling so early in the day. She wouldn’t dare eat yet, not until she had to, not until it was necessary. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes at any moment during her determined wandering. How it had come to this, she could not say. No. No, that was a lie. She could recall, now, quite vividly the strain of seemingly inconsequential incidents which had resulted in her present condition: hungry, alone, flat-broke and stranded in a foreign country. But no matter the cause, this was her reality. This was the hand she had been dealt, and by God, she would play her hand with dignity. No crying. Crying would solve nothing. Crying would not help her reach her destination before nightfall, and it was imperative that she did.

At 3pm, LeAnne found herself staring skyward, sprawled upon the grass with the Eiffel Tower looming like a brown, iron giant above her. The park was crowded with tourists and gypsies alike, all making noise and taking advantage of the beautiful afternoon. Her feet needed rest. The felt as though they were broken beyond repair, but as soon as she had plopped down on the grass and removed her worn sandals, the pressure and pain emanating from her soles began to ease.

At dusk, by some miracle, LeAnne found herself staring dolefully upon the entrance to her appointed place of refuge. A vertical sign posted on the front of the crumbling brick building read, “Woodstock Hostel,” in bold, grey letters. As she stared, the door burst open and out stumbled a tattered-looking lad in a worn leather coat and brown tweed hat, with an unlit cigarette hanging casually from his lips. He spotted LeAnne, and with a smile, approached her. With two fingers, he removed the dangling cigarette from his mouth and spouted off a short inquiry in what LeAnne presumed might have been German. She replied with a blank, frightened stare coupled with silence. The young man impatiently repeated his question, emphasizing certain syllables as though LeAnne might understand better if he talked to her like a child. Understanding no better, however, she shook her head and tried to look apologetic. “I don’t speak German,” she offered weakly, growing very uncomfortable with the young man’s presence.

The scruffy lad looked pleasantly surprised. He laughed as though what LeAnne had said was rather amusing, and then said thickly, holding his cigarette rudely in front of her face, “Light. Do you have light.” He asked the question in a way that seemed more like a pointed statement. Again, LeAnne shook her head and replied, simply, “No.”

The young man scoffed and pushed past her, muttering unpleasantly to himself in hasty German. LeAnne watched him stalk and swagger a short distance away, before he caught a passing hunched, elderly man by the arm and began assaulting him with unpleasant inquiries, as well.

LeAnne tore her gaze from the unpleasant stranger, and gathering up her belongings, pushed her way through the same door the lad had exited through.

The interior of the lobby was smoky and dark, much smaller than the lobby of the hotel she had traveled from. Six or seven wooden barstools encircled two small, circular tables on one side of the room, while the only furniture evident on the other side was an old jukebox. No music played, no lights whirred. The room seemed to be completely empty. On the walls hung an assortment of random objects and signs, most of which were in French, thus unintelligible to LeAnne.

LeAnne spotted a counter with a sign posted in front of it that said “Check-in.” She left her burdensome suitcase in a corner near the door and walked to the vacant desk. “Hello?” she called. There was no immediate response. She looked around at the numerous pieces of paper scattered across the counter, to the map pasted to its surface underneath. On the wall behind the desk hung five identical, bronze keys beneath varied numbers that indicated which room they belonged to.

Suddenly, the door behind the desk burst opened, revealing a scowling, wrinkle-lined old man in a plaid button-down.

“I’m here to check in,” LeAnne said somewhat apologetically. The man did not look happy to see her, but she smiled coldly, expectantly. The man hurrumphed and began leafing through a stack of papers on the counter. Withdrawing one, he slapped it in front of LeAnne and spat, “Sign.” His accent was heavily French and seeped with pure distaste.

LeAnne glanced at the paper, a long list of names, beside some of which were scrawled corresponding signatures.

LeAnne found her own name, signed and slid the paper across the desk. The man looked suspiciously from her, to the signature, back to her and growled, “Identification?”

Nodding, LeAnne rifled through her bag and withdrew her drivers’ license from her wallet. The man snatched it from her, causing LeAnne to jump, and gave it a long, hard glance. He muttered something unpleasantly in French and slid it back to LeAnne, along with one of the five keys that had been hanging on the wall. Then, he disappeared wordlessly back through the door.

LeAnne found her designated room, 37, on the fifth floor, up a series of narrow, winding steps. Lugging her damaged bag up had been a frustrating, exhausting task. Once in her room, she looked hungrily upon the series of 4 identical bunk beds and threw the horrendous piece of luggage upon the first one she saw which was not already cluttered with baggage.

The sun was setting outside, as she could see through the singular dusty window on the far end of the room. At that moment, the city would be coming alive with parties, romance, and violence, as heralded by the flickering on of streetlights below. And LeAnne was safe. Safe, at last, but not free of worry. LeAnne plopped down on the bunk beside her suitcase and rifled through her bag for a sandwich. The aroma was overpowering, and her stomach gave a furious roar in response. Greedily, LeAnne stuffed the croissant in her mouth and relished the instant flood of relief as the meager meal reached her stomach. The entire pastry was gone within three minutes. LeAnne’s hand instinctively dove back into her purse to find a second, but she stopped herself. There were only three more. She only had three small sandwiches to her name, and ten days of uncertainty to survive.

That night, LeAnne slept amidst the heavy snores and drink-saturated smells of her roommates, all strangers, just nameless travelers meeting at a crossroads. Finally, shrouded in darkness, her feet and stomach both aching unbearably, the tears came.

© 2010 Amanda

Author's Note

Its thin in places, I know, but all a work in progress, eh? Please review and critique. Thanks!

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Added on November 8, 2010
Last Updated on November 8, 2010
Tags: travel, fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, Europe, France, story, hunger



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