The sky is pitch black when our plane lands and it will remain that way until just before 9 in the morning. Paris in January. Rain slicks the tarmac and I travel through a well-lit glass bubble with my stack of coats and rolling luggage, passing restrooms and people waiting to depart to other countries.
I remember the first flight I ever went on. I was six years old and had a short blonde haircut with bangs that my mother gave me in our kitchen with a pair of scissors you use to cut paper with. I got the window seat and stared out at a blue sky and white clouds. My mom cut pieces of floral fabric for decoupage projects on whicker baskets. Someone gave me plastic wings to pin on my sweater and we ate unremarkable food because they still served food on domestic flights back then and eventually, we landed in Washington D.C.
I arrive at customs with my bent passport filled with more stamps than I ever imagined and a stupid smile that won’t leave my face. I am not asked questions and I am barely looked at even though in my photo I look like a Russian spy from some James Bond movie with dark brown hair and severe bone structure.
Someone is waiting for me and I get in a car and I drink bottled water while watching traffic on the highway pass slowly. It is a sea of red lights through my window covered in rain. The driver in the front seat tells me his English is not so good and I tell him that my French is terrible and we both laugh, vaguely content in our ignorance. He asks me if I am warm enough and I say that I am even though I am a little bit cold but I don’t care. We listen to David Bowie and The Police on the radio and I drink more of my water and keep smiling like an idiot.
The city appears out of nowhere and suddenly we are circling through roundabouts and getting stuck behind garbage trucks. People drive like idiots here and there are not enough markings on the cobblestone to give people rules to adhere to.
It’s still dark and the city is made of charcoal and glaring yellow lights. The buildings hug the road with a snugness that makes you forget about everywhere else you’ve ever been. Only nine hours ago I left New York in a frantic hurry, catching a plane before the impending storm. Nine hours later I am in the back of a car, waiting for the sun to climb over the horizon in France.