At first sight (8-9)

Chapter 8

He couldn’t believe he was where he was. In the middle of the night, acting like a lunatic to return to a place he never would have dreamed of even going to in the first place. But that was before Chris corrupted him, and before he saw Aimée.

Standing irresolutely at the entrance, he gazed at the deep red walls and the black decorations on it reaching halfway up. Painted silhouettes of naked women, most probably, he guessed, as the design was far from obvious. On the other hand, in such a place, what else could the walls be ornated with?

-Ah, monsieur the American is back –the benign Madame stepped forward from the twilight, slightly frightening Josh. –Don’t be scared monsieur, no one here bites. Unless requested –she added in a low, tempting voice that somehow, despite her looks, age and social status, made Josh strangely excited.

Get a grip on yourself, he thought, once again thankful for the low lights.

-What can I do for you, monsieur? –Madame asked, edging closer, so that one more step and her ample bosom would have grazed Josh’s stomach that he instinctively pulled in. God.

-Erm… well. I… came to see… miss…

-I know who you came to see –Madame replied. –They all want to come back to her…

Was she that popular, after all? Josh was starting to feel really intrigued. What was she capable of that no one else was?

-I’m afraid you just missed her –the lazy smile told him.

-I what? –he asked stupidly.

-She went home five minutes ago –Madame shrugged. –Her next shift is tomorrow evening.


-Okay… well… I’ll come back tomorrow, then –Josh formulated his reply carefully. With every sound, every word he was giving himself away, and he saw in the suave madame’s furtive glance that she knew exactly how to read him. She probably saw through every single guy stepping into her place, but that did not make him feel less exposed.

-We’ll be looking forward to it –she smiled, bowing a little, but showing no servility. –Good night.

He nodded with a clumsy little smile and retreated into the black night once again.

Outside, he quickly looked up and down, wondering which way she could have gone. His instincts pushed him towards the center, drawn by the lights and the strange feel of something sacred coming his way. He walked briskly with his baseball cap on, squinting to discern every moving human figure he met or passed. Couples walked him by, solitary characters with no apparent purpose other than breathing in the languid summer night. Bistros and cafés brightly lit greeted him on every corner, noisy customers spending the small hours in the company of their acquaintances. Josh felt like sitting down and meeting new people, just starting a conversation and seeing what it felt like to be connected to strangers he’d never see again. He had no time, though, as he was hurrying on to meet a stranger he had met, and thought would never see again, but whom he longed to meet again now.

He had walked a few minutes when he decided he had probably lost her. Typical. Then again, what was he expecting? That fate would push him exactly towards her, that out of the millions of people living in Paris he would stumble across that very same girl he had so miraculously met in the fir-

-Oh merde, qu’est-ce que vous faites? J’uis aveugle, conard –a woman blurted out angrily.

Josh almost threw an apology at her when he noticed with his breath cut short that in fact, however ridiculously miraculous it all seemed, almost destined to be, well, despite all of that, he had, in the end, literally stumbled across Aimée. Damn, he cursed happily, not even daring to breathe. Why exactly, he could not say. He hardly knew what to do: he saw he had made her drop her cane, so he lifted it and slowly pushed it to her hand. Her fingers grabbed the cane and she frowned at the voiceless figure standing in front of her.

-Qui est la? –she asked in a more subdued tone.

He said nothing, only took a step back, hoping no one was really paying attention. He stood motionless for a few moments, until she gave up expecting a reply and followed her course of brief, careful but at the same time, resolute steps. He waited a little longer, pretending to look inside the nearby café as if searching for a place to sit down; then, when she was almost behind the corner, he went after her slowly, trying to melt into the background of dark buildings, sparsely lit by street lamps.

With his throat full of his heart, he walked behind her, making sure she couldn’t hear him. Blessed be his Converse that took him quickly and soundlessly closer to her, without exposing his identity.

Of course, when they had walked for about fifteen minutes, he started wondering what the hell he was doing. She would, eventually, reach her home, and go up. At which point he would be forced to lose her. Unless, well… unless he found a way to be invited. Why would he want that… another question he would never get an answer to. He just felt drawn to her, an unknown being, beautiful and intelligent, flawed and special like an ancient china piece jarred at the edge to show it had been used, but used with care.

She stopped outside a tall, arched doorway that led into a backyard. Feeling her way inside, she went in, disappearing before his eyes and causing him to panic slightly. He got this far, he could not afford to lose her now. He quickly went after her, turning to the left, only to receive a full blow of her cane, first on his thigh, then, as he stooped down in pain, on his arm. He moaned and staggered under her deft blows, realizing what a stupid mistake he had made. Trying to avoid her cane, he stepped to the side and back, but she followed him like a magnet, making him wonder if she was blind at all.

-For God’s sake stop –he moaned after the cane hit him on his head, probably by accident, or maybe on the contrary.

-Who’s this? –she asked furiously, still fighting him with her terrible weapon, not knowing he was quite defenceless already.

He honestly didn’t care who he was by now, and he even started to care less for her, actually. His thigh hurt, his arm was in pain from the repeated blows, and from the last few hits, his head felt unpleasantly dizzy.

-Who’s this? –she asked again, grabbing him by his hoodie and pushing him to the wall. He hissed in pain, wondering if it was worth holding her down. Then again, the fingers on his right hand hurt like hell, and he realized her cane must have hit them, too.

-I don’t want to hurt you –he said, breathing with difficulty.

-Then why are you following me like that in the middle of the night, you asshole? –she almost screamed, shaking him against the concrete wall.

He shut his eyes tight, hoping to disperse some of the pain from his knuckles and arms, but she had given him quite a beating. Had he not been the victim of it, he would have laughed his head off: a blind woman beating the crap out of an able-bodied grown-up male.

When she got no reply, he loosened her grip and took a step back, holding her cane in front of herself, her eyes in a frown.

-You? What the hell… are you doing? –she asked, recognition spreading on her face.

He looked at her apologetically, shrugging like an idiot. Then remembering she wouldn’t see his reaction.

-I don’t know –he replied, panting, feeling his arm with his left, healthy hand. –Shit –he mumbled at the sudden wave of pain.

-Merde –she hissed, coming closer, making him wince slightly. –Désolée… je suis… I’m sorry, Seth, but what the hell did you think? What was your plan?

Her voice was half apologetic, half angry. She dropped her cane and felt his arm, sending another rush of pain throughout his whole upper body.

-Yeah, yeah, we’re both sorry, okay, so let’s just forget about it –he replied with a painful quiver in his voice.

-No, I’m really sorry, I am –she said, the words slow and soothing. –I didn’t know… I thought you wanted to…

He nodded, having a clear picture in his head what she had thought he wanted to do. And she was fully armed to avoid any attacks. Her blows bore quite a strong proof that she was practiced in defending herself against similar attacks.

-It’s fine –he said bluntly, trying to straighten his arm, seeing stars at the smallest gesture. –Shit! Shit shit! How did you do this? I think you broke my arm!

-No… no no, that can’t be –she bit her lip, real regret in her eyes. –Come with me, I live upstairs. You lie down and rest and we’ll check your arm okay?

He would have burst out in victorious laughter, had it not been for the horrific pain whenever he moved, whatever part of his body he moved. In the end, he did get what he wanted. But at what price?!


One flight of stairs only, but it felt like eternity for a bruised knee and an arm that hurt in any position imaginable. Josh could not believe the situation he was in as he slowly followed her. She led the way, taking each step carefully, her back slightly hunched as if in apology for what she had done.

Inside her flat she gently pushed him towards a room that seemed to be the living-room. He couldn’t see too much, and he banged his foot into something on the way. An object fell on top of another, he hit his arm into the dorway and stifled a curse before she finally switched the lights on.

-I’m sorry, I always forget… I don’t need light, but others do –she said quietly. –Please sit down, I’ll make some tea.

Tea. When all he wanted was hard alcohol to knock him out of his senses. He fell onto the couch, leaning his head back on it. What was he expecting of her? She couldn’t see his bruises anyway. How was she going to do anything to help him? Maybe he should just go back to the hotel.

-You will have to tell me what you see –he heard her voice above him and he opened his eyes.

-What? –he asked, puzzled.

-I can’t see your injuries –she explained, holding iodine and some other stuff in her hands. –If they look very bad, you should go to the hospital… but it’s up to you to decide.

-No, I’m sure it’s not that bad –he said, not sure about the statement at all.

-In any case, please pull up your sleeve and let’s check your arm –she said, softly sitting down next to him.

She smelled of fresh soap and vanilla. The situation felt so ridiculous and tender at the same time. He thought of what happened in the street, blaming himself for getting into trouble, and also, for being unable to defend himself against someone who couldn’t even see where she was hitting him. How ridiculous was that?! The pain in his arm felt more than that, though, especially when he had to move to slowly take his hoodie off and pull the sleeve of his shirt up. He inspected his forearm and noticed that most of it was starting to turn blue and purple. Carefully touching his own skin with his other hand, he hissed from the pain.

-Is it very bad? –she asked in a subdued voice.

-It looks bad enough but I’m sure they’re only bruises –he replied, almost sorry he didn’t overdo it a little. As revenge.

-I’ll bring ice and we can help the… the… –she gesticulated, angry for not remembering a word.

-Swelling? –he helped her, still looking at his arm.

-Yes –she said, placing the desinfectant next to him and standing up to go to her kitchen.

He heard the fridge door open, then close, and by the time he looked up, she was already back.

-Here –she extended her arm and he took the icebag from her.

-Thanks –he said and pressed the ice to his arm, almost dropping it. It stung and hurt like hell, not only the cold, but also the pressure.

She disappeared again, and he settled comfortably on her sofa, keeping the ice tight against his arm, wondering what next. He would obviously not stay too long. A little time for the swelling to go down and then he should return to the hotel, Chris must be worried when he wakes up. He turned his head to check the time: it was almost 4 am.

-Here, I brought a pill for pain and tea –Aimée returned, slowly placing a tray on a coffee table. Josh followed her moves, in awe at just how dexterous she was, despite her handicap. Her moves were soft and gentle, never hurried, except of course when she attacked him with her cane.

He swallowed the pill with some tea that tasted of lemon and mint. She had sat down on the sofa, leaving space enough between them for an invisible person. He looked at her face: was she scared? Now? Of what? He decided that keeping silent was the worst thing he could do to a blind person, so he cleared his throat and spoke.

-Do you live here alone?

She seemed taken aback by his question, but recovered quickly.


-Do you have a boyfriend?

-No –she said, seemingly calm. –No one would tolerate my lifestyle.

He nodded, agreeing.

-Don’t you miss having someone with you… constantly? –he asked, the word indiscretion never occurring to him. Perhaps he thought, she owed him that much, after beating him up like that.

She shrugged.

-I have my brother, Martin –was her reply.

He thought it wiser to probe any further and kept silent for a while, but his curiosity was soon getting the better of him.

-Why did you… why did you start working as…

He realized he had formulated the question in a bad way and he stopped, mentally kicking himself.

-As a prostitute? –she finished with a smile. –Why do people hate this word? Yes, it is an ugly word, but for something nice…

-Nice? In what way? –he asked, intrigued.

-We make people happy –she said simply, apparently undisturbed by the visions and thought that chased each other in his brain.

-But… –he said, biting his lip.

-But what? –she asked him patiently.

-You’re… you’re selling yourself to strangers –he said, aware he had no right to say what he just said, but he couldn’t help himself. She was beautiful and smart, and she was sleeping with strangers for money: it was an oximoron and it should not have happened in his books.

-Like everyone else, Seth –she replied calmly. –You’re selling yourself, too.

-I am not –he said, indignance rising in his throat.

-You’re selling your music, no? You’re giving your secrets up before people who don’t know you, and they pay you for it.

-Yes, because I try to give them something and make them happy… –he replied, his resolute voice fading when he realized how right she was.

-See? We’re very alike in what we do –she shrugged, pulling her legs up and nestling comfily against the back of the sofa.

His brain saw the similarity between their respective jobs but he simply couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being used, and that she allowed it to happen.

-I… I still can’t agree –he said. –Yours is… not exactly a clean profession and… besides, you said yourself, you can’t have a family of your own like this.

-Why is it not clean? –she turned to face him with her blind eyes. –Because I fuck men? Why is sex unclean?

Josh had no arguments against that.

-You fuck women too, right? Do you consider it unclean? –she pressed him on, slightly angry.

-I… first of all, I… I make love to them, alright? And, it doesn’t happen every day let alone several times a day, and, I usually prefer doing it with one person, not hundreds. Preferably someone I love –he replied, feeling he justified himself.

-What if you could love more people at the same time?

-What do you mean?

-If you loved one woman, and then another, and then another… at the same time.

He laughed at her infantility.

-Don’t tell me you love all those men you give yourself to –he smirked, checking his arm. He couldn’t feel a thing any more, it was so anaesthetized by the ice.

She stopped short and he wondered if it was anything he said. Perhaps he hurt her… what if she did, indeed, love all those men… Then he stared blankly at a little girl of about eight who stood in the doorway without a sound. She had pink pj’s on and her hair, reaching to her shoulders in light brown waves, was a cute mess.

-Suzette? –Aimée asked quietly, and when she heard the girl move, she opened her arms to receive the child in them.

Josh watched the scene dumbly, re-playing their previous conversation in his head. She had told him she had no family, and that she lived alone, a blatant lie. Aimée and her daughter were talking in French, subdued mother and child dialogues of tenderness and care.

-Who is he? –Suzette asked.

-He’s someone who got hurt in the street and I wanted to check his injuries –her mom replied.

-Do you know him?

-I don’t know him well, but I think he’s a good person –Aimée kissed the top of Suzette’s head.

-He has nice hair –Suzette giggled, looking at Josh, who gave her an uncertain smile.

-Doesn’t he? –Aimée smiled at Suzette, then at Josh.

-Do angels have curls like his? –the girl asked, sitting in her mom’s lap and holding the safe arms clasped around her tiny body.

-They definitely do.

-Is he an angel, mommy?

-He may well be –Aimée replied, stroking Suzette’s hair. –Aren’t you sleepy? Did you play a lot today?

-Yes –Suzette looked at her mom with a wide smile that showed one of her front teeth missing, to which sight Josh couldn’t help but smile himself. –Marianne read more about Don Quixote and then we played that I was Pancho S… Sanchez and she was Don Quixote.

Aimée laughed and squeezed Suzette tighter.

-Oh, you precious doll, you –she said, kissing the little girl affectionately. –I’m staying home tomorrow, the whole day. We can play and walk in the park and eat ice-cream and play and eat and play some more. Will that be good?

-Yes, yes! –Suzette sqealed in delight and hugged her mom.

Josh watched the two of them with warmth around his heart. He felt like an intruder, but at the same time, neither of them seemed to mind him being there; in fact, Suzette was smiling at him from her mother’s hug, and he smiled back with less restraint.

-Is he going to be here tomorrow? –Suzette asked her mom who was taken aback a little.

-I don’t think so, sweetheart –she said, kissing Suzette.

-But I like him –Suzette protested against her mom’s arms putting her to the ground.

-I like him too –Aimée said, kissing Suzette once more. –But he has better things to do, besides, he’s a foreigner and will go back home soon.

Suzette’s smile disappared and looked at Josh once again before waving and walking away with her mom.

So, she had a child. She must have been very young when… He was all questions and he wanted answers, so when Aimée returned, he didn’t wait for one moment before he started assaulting her with his enquries.