FaceBook and New Shoes – Anton Nicholls
As he lay there on his back looking up at the theatre room’s bright lights, Laurent asked himself again and again, How the fuck did I get here? How did all this begin?
Was it from way back in his childhood growing up with a huge need for adventure, or was it more recently with the dissolvement of his marriage after 24 years?
I’m tough, I can do anything I need to do and anything I want to do, he thought to himself through a foggy, misty brain but in his heart he really knew that right now he was kidding himself.
Five years in the French Foreign Legion had taught him to be strong, independant, hard. 21 years’ service, afterwards, in the Gendarmerie in one of the toughest units they had, ensured those elements of toughness and hardness were brought out almost every single day he was at work.
Perhaps it was no wonder his marriage had finally broken down and disintegrated. Now the kids were a bit older and didn’t need the guidance and support of their mum or dad and with his work taking up lots of time it was natural that his relationship with his wife had fallen down, dissolved.
She was happier spending her time on Facebook joining in lots of pointless, useless arguments about Nationalism or asking in local wives groups what shoes or dress were the best to wear for dinner in the “best” restaurant in town. Their local town where their best restaurant was a mediocre affair serving insipid, dull, boring and tasteless slop.
Harking back to memories of his childhood growing up with his father who was a dreamer, a writer, a romanticist who created written works of art that cast a reader far away into a foreign land of excitement and adventure where always the dialogue was of searching for a meaning not only in the novel but in your own life as well. His father had a way of writing that made everyone ask the fundamental questions, why are we here, what is my life about, what should I really do with myself to make myself happy?
Looking back to the day his final divorce papers came through the post box just nine monnths ago. He could navigate the path his life had taken and how he had finally come to the decision three months after those divorce papers had fallen heavily on the floor of his tiny, grim, spartan one-bedroom apartment in the shitty part of town.
He didn’t begrudge his wife and kids keeping the modest but pretty three bedroom town house that was previously the family home. Filled full of books his dad had written, walls covered with photographs of his time in active duty and of his successes in his younger years as a good amateur boxer. So many good memories but he had taken the decision one grim, wet November morning to pack his bags and hit the road for an adventure. Go south he thought go south. Follow the sun, ride south to Africa. Spend some time surfing and fishing on the Atlantic coast and clear your head. Maybe ride down the old route that the old Paris Dakar race had taken in its heyday. Yes, that was an adventure in itself for sure.
Setting off at the end of February with a rough time limit of six months he felt this was the right thing to do, the right adventure to have. He still had his duties as a dad and a former husband, cut the grass occasionally, fix the washing machine again, so not too long away and he could still be there if his ex-wife needed him.
The excitement was overloading his brain, hardly able to contain himself he set off on the first day at a fast pace, far faster than he said he would do. After all, he wanted to travel slow, take in the sights, sample the culture, take the chance to climb a few hills and mountains on the way. He missed being in the mountains especially. What was it? Thirty five years since he had climbed Grand Casse with a group of likeminded friends? Wow, time flies.
What he had never planned on or expected to find was love. All he wanted was a cold beer for Gods sake. The need for that cold beer had brought him off the muddy bumpy road in the Congo to a food stop that had large beer bottles resting in an old rusty open top deep freezer. Only it wasn’t plugged in, it was filled with large blocks of cut ice, so large that even in this damp humid heat, it still took them twenty four hours to melt away to nothing.
Propping his BMW GS850 up at the side of the road, un zipping his textile jacket and removing his helmet, he wandered slowly into the cafe. Feeling the blood running back into his veins the stiffness and small cramps disappearing from his legs and the dull pain in his lower back going. He was floored, absolutely floored to see the most beautiful young woman standing behind the counter taking orders and running out the back to help with cooking food on the barbeque grill.
Walking back in she could feel the hard but friendly gaze of the traveller. Tall, grizzly with grey or white bits in his dark beard and hair all sweaty and sticky, he certainly was interesting and even handsome, even at this stage of his life. His eyes seemed to hold many stories and she was surprised that in fact she found him attractive, appealing, someone she could be interested in.
Taking his cold beer Laurent was surprised by the next words out of his mouth. “Is there a good hotel or guest house nearby where I can stay for a few days?”.
Their friendship grew very quickly. Laurent would come two or three times a day for meals and a cold beer or two. He wasn’t a big drinker, naturally his favourite drink was a great French red wine but this cold beer kept him happy and certainly it gave him enough reason to keep seeing this beautiful young woman called Elizabeth.
He soon found out that she was engaged to a young guy in the local town and he was a successful business man. Elizabeth said she didn’t really know what his business was but her future husband owned a few bars, a restaurant, a cafe and a small guest house. She found herself giving all this information away to Laurent easily. After all he was easy on the eye, friendly, interesting and very easy to talk to as he asked lots of questions and listened intently to every word she said.
A few of the locals that frequented this cafe-bar started to tease her saying she had a new lover and they hoped her soon-to-be husband didn’t find out about her new love. She laughed it off but in fact, she was a bit afraid deep inside.
Elizabeth turned up to work that Friday like she did every morning but this morning she had a skip in her step, her mind was clear and her mood was completely relaxed. She was happy, in fact she was very happy and she knew exactly the reason why. Would Laurent be there ordering a coffee and asking what she could recommend for him to eat for breakfast that day. As she walked in the smile grew on her face to see the handsome traveller. His smile grew across his face, his now close- cropped beard making his handsome features even more obvious. Her smile quickly fell off her face as she saw her future husband catch the look and smile between the two. His own face betraying the true emotion that he was feeling. Flying out from behind the counter top with a huge old used kitchen knife in his hand he had already sunk it in deep into the back of Laurent before she could scream out not to do it. Laurent felt like a baseball bat had been swung across his head and at the same exact time a hand had entered his chest and pulled all the air out of his lungs. As the second and third hard deep stabs were driven into his back and ribcage, the legs of Laurent buckled. Falling to the floor he felt the agony of the fifth stab. This time he felt the steel enter into him and the excruciating pain it had deliverd. His mouth opened automatically to scream out but no scream emitted just a gargled slightly foamy red bubble leaked out of the corner of his mouth.
Three or four locals were there and jumped in to stop any more stabs but the damage was already done. By the time the local ambulance service arrived Laurent was in a seriously bad way.
As he lay there on his back looking up at the theatre lights he wondered how he had arrived at this. All I wanted was a cold fucking beer, what now, why are the lights flickering off and on, must be a power cut, he thought.
That was the last thing he ever thought. Laurent was repatriated back to France where his wife and children buried him. His many friends from the Gendarmerie attended. A copy of one of his father’s adventure books was laid to rest in the coffin with Laurent. His children and wife shed their tears and went back home. That night, his ex-wife thanked everyone with a short post on her Facebook page. The shoes she had ordered online a few days earlier had arrived that day. She would wear them tonight at dinner in the best restaurant in town.