River of Rats, Part Seven – And Everything
I woke with a start. How long was I asleep for? The sun was coming up and my bones felt brittle with frost. I had slumped off the bench and fallen to the ground facedown. I got up, and dusted myself off. I saw no sign of Joanna on the corner or anywhere. I walked up the hill, but didn’t see her. Nothing. She was gone
I walked in the direction of the bridge. On the way I stopped in front of a boulangerie and stared at the fresh bread on the racks behind the counter. I reached into my pocket to pull out my wallet and what meager currency I had stored there but found that the wallet was empty; I had nothing. The Ethiopian Girl with the missing tooth? Or maybe the Persian boy with the dented face? I wasn’t sure.
I ran. What else was I to do? Where to? I don’t know- the bridge maybe? Was I hoping that Joanna was there, asleep in the sleeping bag? Maybe she saw me sleeping on the bench and decided not to wake me. No, I thought, likely not. She was gone. I was sure of it.
My body felt swollen and stiff but I had grown so thin I had to hold my pants up with my hands as I ran. People stared in that way that Parisians do, looking but not looking. As I sprinted past a news kiosk a headline caught my eye. I stopped and walked slowly back. I could feel the sweat on my face and down my back and the sound of my heartbeat filled my head and I felt dizzy. I was breathing hard. My breath was a wheeze. My chest hurt and my throat felt think and then I saw it; A picture taken from outside, looking in, a pale hand, the right leg in light blue ripped jeans and old black Converse All-Star sneakers and above it, the headline, In big bright red letters.
I stood there and the earth swirled and my head swirled and everything I knew faded and I forgot about the Persian Boy and the woman with the missing tooth and the fat old twins in their tattered pink dresses and my falling pants and the bridge and the river and my hunger and Joanna and everything.