By Mehreen Ahmed
As a lightning crackled, Claudia drew the curtains apart. She stood before the long French windows of her penthouse apartment and looked down at a wet alley. The cobblestones of the boulevard shone in the falling rain of dismal clouds. It hadn’t rained for days. She yawned and then she stretched. Across the boulevard, a boulangerie just opened for the day. She saw a young Baker bringing out a basket of fresh croissants. He displayed them in a glassed cove. They were enticing, particularly today, the morning’s gloom added an extra pizzazz to the atmosphere.
This place lent Claudia a bird’s-eye view to the entire alley. A young Baker came out of the cafe. At a pull of a wiry string hanging by the side of a wall, he flicked open the cafe’s maroon awning with a white wavy line down the edge. It jutted over the pavement; water droplets dribbled out of the awning’s open corners. Standing by the tall window, Claudia watched without any misgivings, the morning’s fate unfold.
A flower shop stood next door. Wet flowers drooped in the heavy battering of the rain. Flowers rooted to their pots’ black soils. A cluster of pots under the shop’s white awning. A young flower girl rushed outside to take the pots indoors. She carried them, one pot at a time. She flitted in and out in a long, pink skirt and a mauve blouse. When she came back to collect more pots, her foot stumbled in her skirt’s hem; she slipped and fell down on her ankle on the wet cobbles. This caught the young Baker’s attention. He ran over to assist the girl and found out that she had a sprained ankle.
Claudia watched in earnest. The Baker picked her up and brought her over into his boulangerie. He brought her a glass of water and some pills, which she took. Then he made her the finest cup of coffee, Claudia imagined, and one for himself as well. They sat down under the soaking awning to have their coffee. It was like a Charlie Chaplin silent movie. Claudia fast-paced the events into quick rag-doll movements; Charlie wooing his girlfriend, standing up and then sitting down closely next to her; his arms angled around her neck. She didn’t seem to mind. Then he brought his head down to her lips. She pouted her lips towards his. They kissed. Claudia watched this exciting moment of joy. They kissed and then they laughed. There was not a care in the world. The rain had not abated. Water gushed down the storm water drain in the rivulet.
Then this otherness retracted. This dark side slowly creeping into Claudia’s mind. Miss Havisham in her bleak house, who had everything but starved of companionship of the one true love. She owned everything, except her life. A life which passed her by, lost in the snitches of time. Claudia realised desperately that the Baker and the Florist must decide to be together. Life’s full meaning must be harnessed in this togetherness. She must tell them Miss Havisham’s tale. That they must not allow themselves to suffer the pain of a relationship break down, should they choose to decide otherwise. This sweet, sweet tale of love in the Parisian rain must not end in tangled masses of crisscrossed cobwebs.
She treaded across her apartment floor, away from the windows towards an umbrella stand set along a brick wall. She picked up a transparent umbrella and set off. She ran down several flights of stairs, and out in the open on the pavement across the alley. She stood here under her umbrella and heard the soft swishes of the wind blow. She saw the rain’s tiny drizzles on her umbrella’s downturned dome. There they were, lying idle in each other’s gentle embrace; they wooed and they cooed and they whispered delightful sweet nothings without a miss. The rain must go on. It was the rain that held the enigma of the moment. She must make the rain remain longer somehow. She stood there, yes Claudia, stood like the great giant Thor, her umbrella, her hammer in the Nordic god’s immortal grips.
Something happened. Her thoughts collapsed like the switching off of a hologram projector. Claudia stepped out of character. No, it was she, who wanted to be the girl in the Baker’s arms. But not in the present, at a different time. She fell through a slit. She was with him, the Baker in Louis’ castle in Versailles. She wanted him all to herself. no.no wait. There was a revolution. The Baker was taken prisoner from their cottage. He never returned.
But he did return to the Florist. He fell through another time slit and here he was in the morning’s rain. So did she. Oh! Where was the story going? The Baker and the Florist rose from the seats hand in hand. She looked up, her face in the rain. She laughed. He gazed at her beauty. Her laughter rang down the tapered alley leading the way to the couple’s opaque destiny. The flowers smiled in the pots, dressed to dance in threaded petals of pink, and blue frocks. A picturesque array, while the rains showered glimpses of cosmic insights. Had there been no rain, then the girl would not have fallen, and coffee would not have followed. The Baker and the Florist would not have met. Events would not have transpired the way they did.
Claudia with her umbrella, Miss Havisham’s memories from her dark days, the ghosts, a teasing thin wall of separation between her reality and this. The couple walked on. She watched them promenade and yearned for what was lost. On timeline’s linear path, many a non-linear moments played out. The rain tapped away on the cobbles, the boulangerie, and the flower shop, a whiff in the wind of dust and sand. Music of a silent heart, a violin stringed to che sera sera whatever will be will be; Claudia’s apparition was frozen in time; this long, indelible shadow of the bleak house birdlime.