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BREL AND I

By Akli TADJER Sofitel Brussels Europe

Of Brussels, I have only experienced the wind-beaten platforms at the South Station and the emollient foyers of grand hotels where I spent the day talking about my novels to literary critics. I would leave for Paris in the evening, frustrated at not knowing anything about the Belgian capital. And, each time, while looking at the post cards on display at the Station’s newsstands, I would think that it would be good if, one day, a chance encounter had me visit the city.

Yesterday, at dusk, I sat down on a bench at the end of the platform as I often do. A feminine voice escaped the speakers to announce that my train would be be delayed. How long?
I don’t remember. The reason? I had already stopped listening. The winter wind blew in gusts. The cold bleared my eyes, I turned my coat collar up and closed my eyes. I was feeling more alone than ever, doubtlessly because, over there, at the “Paris-Nord” train station, Mathilda was no longer waiting for me since she had left me, at the first rays of spring sun, for someone other than me: younger, funnier, more handsome. But there are coincidences that are worth a thousand thwarted loves. He sat down, there, just next to me. He was tall, lean as a thoroughbred, his straight black hair fell on his wide forehead. He was smoking his cigarette pinched between the thumb and index and exhaled the smoke by the nose like Bogart in Casablanca.

I rubbed my eyes with the back of the hand to wipe away the tears. No, I wasn’t dreaming. It was him indeed, yet it didn’t surprise me. On this train platform, at this hour when the evening grey mingled with the black of night, it couldn’t have been anyone else. I forced a smile to say good evening or good night. He offered me a cigarette, – I hadn’t smoked for a long time but I accepted just to please him. Exactly like Bogart, I exhaled by the nose to make myself more cinematic. He squashed his cigarette butt with his heel and asked if I was sulking because I was returning to Paris or because she had left me.

– Because she left me, I answered uncomfortably.
– They all end up leaving us one day. Look, for the one I loved, I was ready to offer her pearls of rain from lands where it doesn’t rain. It didn’t change a thing. She left for someone younger, funnier, more handsome.

Then he patted my shoulder with his bony hand as if we had always been friends and said that I had a sorrowful face and if my name were Jeff it wouldn’t surprise him. He smiled showing all his horse teeth and added while searching his coat pockets that he still had a few coins and if I agreed we could go have a drink at “Mère Françoise’s”.
I was game for any trip that evening.

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