I’m at a cocktail party. The host is a friend of a friend, someone I only know in passing who lives not far from the office. It’s an eclectic crowd. Most are in marketing and advertising, I gather. The more established firms such as Ogilvy & Mather and JWT. There are also accountants, doctors and the obligatory Directors and VPs, from finance to support. If my husband were here, he would already be in deep conversation about his company’s loosing market share to Apple. But of course he is not, and in my lack of company I turn my attention to an improbably handsome young lawyer in his early thirties. It’s a fleeting conversation, not lasting for more than a few minutes before we are interrupted by who I presume is his wife or girlfriend. He wants to introduce me but she pretends not to hear and pulls him away.
I stand once more alone, throwing back my third glass of Champagne and finding myself desperately wanting another one. I look around the salon. People are strangely animated, but in some sort of farcical slow motion. I try to listen in on the conversations next to me, determining which one I should join, but the sounds don’t make a connection, as if they belong to a language I don’t understand. I realize I need some air and walk towards a pair of French doors opening onto a balcony. Well, ‘balcony’ doesn’t do it justice; it’s more of a rooftop terrace spanning the entire south side of the building. I walk towards the iron balustrade. It’s 9 PM exactly and the Eiffel Tour begins to sparkle. It’s a clear night and the air is freezing. I wrap my arms around myself to fight off the chill. It’s to little avail.
“I bet you are thinking of how to escape this dreaded party.” The voice is familiar but I can’t exactly place it. Before I turn around I feel two hands on either side of my shoulders. The warmth is a welcome reprieve from the sub-zero temperature.
“You’re cold. Let me give you my jacket.” Cyril takes off his sand-coloured corduroy blazer and places it over my shoulders. Still the same smell: Gauloises mixed with Fougère Royale by Houbigant and stale sweat.
“Have you been observing me all evening?”
“My-oh-my, don’t we think highly of ourselves tonight? I just arrived, as a matter of fact. But God what boring people are here.” He waves his cigarette in the direction of the party, like it’s a wand with magical properties that can put an end to tedious parties and their lacklustre inhabitants.
“Yes, I was just working up courage to leave,” I say.
“Would you like to come with me? I have an apartment not far from here. In the Latin Quarter. I promise it will be very civilised. Only coffee and jazz.”
I don’t have to think for long. Since last night, I’ve been left in a state of loneliness. I’m dying for company. If only to escape myself.