Diamond Wilson sat on her couch with a glass of vodka in her hand and mascara running down her cheeks. Things had gone too far. She had to admit that she stayed with Malik for too long. He had torn her up, both emotionally and physically, and Diamond finally came to the conclusion that if anyone was going to stop it, it would have to be her.
She took a hearty sip and the vodka went down smooth. Diamond thought it was unusual that she had come to this place. It wasn’t like her. Always headstrong, healthy, optimistic, and compassionate, she had now dissolved into a puddle of lethargic dread. Had she really allowed a man to transform her into this creature? Unfortunately, she had. And it was because she loved Malik with all her heart and soul. Like with everything else, when Diamond threw herself into something, she dove in completely, and diving into Malik was like being propelled into the Bermuda Triangle.
She brushed one of her beautiful ebony braids away from her face and laughed. Yes, even in such a dismal moment, Diamond still had a sense of humor. And above all, she realized that maybe this disastrous heartache was a door closing in order for her to be forced to jump out a window. Diamond knew where that window would lead. It had been her dream all her life to travel to France. She immediately picked up her laptop to book a ticket. It would be expensive, but Diamond was feeling indulgent. Pain does that.
“That’s some straight up boughie ass shit,” Diamond’s friend, Tanesha, said one day when they were shopping for shoes.
“But I always wanted to learn French,” Diamond had protested, laughing at Tanesha’s dismay.
“Girl, I’ll teach you some damn French. Pour me some more champagne, S'IL VOUS PLAIT!”
Diamond dropped the subject, because she wasn’t going to convince Tanesha that going to France was a good idea. But she remembered desperately wanting to tell her on that day that Malik was beating the shit out of her. That’s why she wanted to go to France.
“Girl, you be trippin’,” Diamond said to herself as she pressed the “Book It” icon to secure her ticket. She shook her head back and forth in dismay. Was she seriously doing this? It was the craziest, most out-of-left-field thing she had ever done in her life, and it all was secured with the click of a button. She closed her laptop and leaned back into the couch. Excitement came over her. She sprang up, wiped the remaining mascara from her damp cheek, and tossed the rest of the vodka down the sink. She wasn’t going to be needing it anymore. Diamond was finally listening to her spirit.
“Good morning. Air France would like to thank you for flying the friendly skies with us. Our journey to Charles de Gaulle Airport will last 8 hours and 10 minutes, so please sit back and relax. Petite déjeuner will be served once we’ve reached our flying altitude.”
Diamond knew that petite déjeuner meant breakfast, and she was thankful for it because she was starving. She looked out the window of the Boeing 747 and watched as the plane left the ground and soared into the clouds. Her heart was soaring as well. She was doing it. Diamond was making her dreams come true.
I am the only sista on this plane, Diamond thought to herself in confusion, looking all around the cabin. How was it that, even flying from Chicago, there were no other black folks en route to France? Maybe Tanesha was right. Boughie ass shit.
Once the plane reached full height, a pretty French stewardess came by pushing a cart that smelt of fresh pastry and eggs. She placed a little tray in front of Diamond. It was covered in plastic wrap that had become cloudy from the warmth of the food. Diamond peeled back the cover and was delighted by what she saw. Only on a French airline could the food be so good.
“Brioche, omelette de champignon, yogurt au baies, pain au chocolate,” the stewardess said, announcing the foods that were placed before her.
“Thank you,” Diamond said with a smile.
“Oui,” the stewardess replied with a congenial nod.
As the stewardess pushed her cart along, Diamond took a sip of her fresh orange juice and told herself that she was going to stop grinning like a kid in a candy shop, but she couldn’t get it to stop. She had always wondered how the French stayed so thin, and judging by the dish placed before her, she thought that the secret was eating a lot of bread and pastry, and that pleased her just fine.
Not that Diamond had anything to worry about. She was in great shape. Always had been. She had her morning jogs to thank for that. But Diamond promised herself as she bit into her pain au chocolate that she was going to loosen her grip a bit when in France. She was going to indulge. She dipped her pastry into her coffee and thought that she might die of happiness.
Petite déjeuner being done, her tray was cleared and Diamond took a deep breath. Dread came over her. What the heck was she going to do in Northern France? She hadn’t really planned that part. She had secured a cozy little apartment in Veules-les-Roses, but she never thought once about what to do there. She’d blow through her savings; that much was certain. But Diamond had worked so hard for years as a bank teller, and she couldn’t stand it for another minute. If push came to shove, she’d get a job at a restaurant waiting tables. No shame in that.
To drown her anxious thoughts, Diamond leaned over to get a magazine from the pouch on the seat in front of her. She was drawn to the cover of Le Finance because there, staring back at her, was a very handsome white Frenchman with his arms crossed in front of his chest. He looked intent, serious, and a tad miserable. Diamond had to wonder if money naturally made people so angry-looking. “Mo money mo problems,” Tanesha always said.
Still, something intrigued her about the man on the cover of the magazine and she felt like she wanted to know more. She opened the pages and flipped through to find the article about him.
“Baptiste Laurent - France’s Man of the Hour,” the article stated. Diamond was ready to delve into the article when she was distracted by her seat mate.
“You have beautiful hair,” the plump man said, looking at Diamond with admiration.
“Oh, thank you,” Diamond said politely. White people were always admiring her hair.
“Can I touch it?” the man asked, and Diamond’s face dropped. Seriously? Would the nonsense never cease? Sadly, this was a common occurrence for her. A few simple braids on her head and white folks treated her like a circus phenomenon.
“I would prefer if you didn’t,” Diamond said, opening her magazine in front of her face to end the conversation. The white man huffed a little, as though Diamond’s reply was rude, which of course, it was not.
Although the magazine was now held in front of her, Diamond couldn’t read any of the words because she was frustrated. Why was she always put in a position of feeling like a jerk, just because she wouldn’t let some stranger touch her hair? She stared at the words on the page, and found another picture of Baptiste Laurent. He looked angry, again. But there was a hint of kindness in his eyes. Fleetingly, Diamond thought about how Mr. Baptiste Laurent would have enough class to not ask to touch her braids.
Diamond closed her eyes and tried to drift off, but her mother kept coming into her mind.
“You know I’m proud of you,” she said in her imagination.
“Thanks, mama,” Diamond replied.
Even if Tanesha thought Diamond was crazy, her mother would have understood completely. They were of similar minds. Bernice had worked all her life at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. In the end, it wasn’t her job that would kill her, but the breast cancer that took her down. Diamond never knew her father. He jumped ship just as soon as Bernice got pregnant.
Diamond was always having these kinds of conversations with her mother in her mind. She thought maybe she was going crazy or something, but it was so comforting. It was like Bernice was just sitting there right beside her on that plane. Shoot, at least it was better than that stupid white guy who was actually sitting there.
“You’re just like me, D,” Bernice said, reclining her seat.
“How’s that?” Diamond asked.
“I always wanted to travel, ya know,” Bernice explained.
“Well, you were too busy raising ME,” Diamond said apologetically.
“Now, you weren’t too hard to handle,” Bernice said, fanning herself with one hand. “Why it gotta be so stuffy on these planes?”
“Mama, I’m sure that I was more difficult than you’re letting on.”
“Oh, come now child. Folks be shootin’ one another left and right where you was raised. My only job was to get in the way of any bullet that had yo name on it.”
Diamond opened her eyes and looked up at the “Fasten Your Seatbelt” sign. Tears arose, and she tried to push them back. She looked to her side and found that the white man was sitting there, and not Bernice. It was always so vivid when her mom came to her. Diamond was always surprised to find that Bernice hadn’t been there at all.
“This trip is for you, mama,” Diamond said under her breath.
The rest of the flight passed quickly, and Diamond was delighted to find that for lunch she was served a with salad and fruit. Yes, she was already indulging her taste buds and she wasn’t going to stop. Diamond was tired of her customary chicken breast with cottage cheese and vegetables for lunch. Screw all that. She was about to get all Eat, Pray, Love and wouldn’t regret it for a second.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to make our descent into Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport,” the stewardess said over the intercom. Diamond looked out the window and found Paris spread out beneath her. How magical. She would have only one day to explore it all before catching a train to Normandy, and she was going to savor each minute of it. Diamond took out her list of things to see and do and frowned to herself. How the heck was she going to do all that in one day? It seemed insane. She folded the list and put it back in her pocket.
“Excuse me,” Diamond said as the stewardess passed again.
“Yes?” she replied with her heavy French accent.
“If you could see only one thing in Paris, what would it be?” Diamond asked.
The stewardess considered the question as though it were the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard. See one thing in Paris? How preposterous.
“Dis is very hard,” she replied.
“Okay, maybe two things then. . .” Diamond added.
“I say, you must see the Louvre, and then you must dine at Cafe de la Paix,” the stewardess said definitively.
“Oh, shoot. I better write this down,” Diamond said, taking her list out and turning it over to the blank side. Of course, she knew that she had to go to the Louvre, but she would never remember the name of that cafe unless she took note of it. “Thank you so much.”
“Mon plaisir,” the stewardess replied with a warm smile.
“Do you need company?” the guy next to her added. Diamond had to prevent herself from rolling her eyes.
“I’ll be just fine, thank you,” she replied.
“Pretty girl like you should have an escort,” the man said with a grin.
“Pretty girl like me should have some privacy,” Diamond said.
Finally, the guy got the hint and returned to his game of Angry Birds on his phone.
As Diamond looked out the window, Paris seemed to rise up closer and closer to the plane. It was all unfolding before her; Diamond’s new life. Well, not permanently, of course. But it was her new life for two months, at least. She had no clue what was going to happen after that, but Diamond was going one step at a time.
“No pushing, s'il vous plaît,” the docent at the Louvre said. The crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder, and Diamond was doing her best to push through and see the Mona Lisa. In the rest of the museum she was able to breeze through, but not in that coveted hall. There Leonardo da Vinci’s mysterious lady sat, a faint smile on her lips. Diamond could see it from a distance but she had to have a closer look.
“Excuse me,” she said, bumping into another tourist.
“Watch yourself,” the woman said back.
It seems like a monumental task, but Diamond was trim and stealthy enough to finally wiggle her way through. She made it to just a few paces away from the painting. For a moment she lost her breath. There was something so pure and simple about the portrait, and yet it was lifelike. She thought that Mona might just step out of the frame to greet her.
“Remarkable,” Diamond could hear someone behind her say.
After standing and gazing at it for a solid twenty minutes, Diamond decided it was time to move on. If she didn’t, there was no way that she’d be able to see everything before the day was over.
Wandering down the famous halls of the Louvre, Diamond realized that she had no idea where she was anymore. She consulted her map but still couldn’t pinpoint her location. The walls upon walls of fine art were almost making her dizzy, and suddenly it made sense why museums once had fainting couches. It was easy to be overwhelmed by it all.
It was somewhere along the halls of El Greco that Diamond thought she spotted Malik, off in the distance watching her. Her heart began to pound and she walked in the opposite direction. It wasn’t Malik, of course. It couldn’t be. Yet still, the sensation of fear overtook her and Diamond found herself at the nearest exit door. Once down the staircase and out a second door, Diamond finally saw the light of day and she heaved a sigh of relief. She walked into the plaza and took another look at the museum structure that surrounded her.
It must be jet lag, Diamond thought to herself. She never got faint. And then she realized that it all made perfect sense because she was hungry and hadn’t eaten since the flight.
“Alright Cafe de la Paix, let’s see what you got,” Diamond said to herself, consulting her map.
It was a fifteen-minute walk along Avenue de l'Opéra before Diamond reached her destination. She was hot and tired from the exertion, but what she would find inside would definitely be worth all the effort.
“Bienvenue, Mademoiselle,” the Mater’d said. He was wearing a crisp black suit.
“Bienvenue,” Diamond replied, hoping that she didn’t look as haggard as she felt, because the interior of the restaurant was fit for Louis XIV.
“The terrace?” the Mater’d asked, assuming that since it was lunchtime, and a beautiful day, that’s where Diamond would want to sit.
“Yes, please,” she replied.
The gentleman led her through the main dining room and out onto the terrace, where Diamond could sit and watch the happenings of the Place de l'Opéra. It was an enclosed terrace, which was a blessing for Diamond, because it meant that she could enjoy the luxury of an air-conditioned environment. No doubt, her hotel would not have any.
“Le menu,” the Mater’d said, placing it before her.
When Diamond opened the leather cover she was amazed at the selection. She would definitely be getting the Mademoiselle Opéra, a salad composed with red quinoa, fresh green beans, tofu, goji berries, and raspberry vinaigrette. Next up would be Le Parisien Baguette, with cooked ham, Emmental cheese, and pickled butter. Lastly there would need to be a Napoléon mille-feuille with fine pastry cream. Yes, she had it all mapped out perfectly. Now she just needed to sit and wait for some service while sipping her cold water.
“Attention, Mademoiselle,” Diamond heard a voice say, and she saw a man lean over and pick up her hat that had fallen on the ground. He stood back up and handed it to her. Diamond froze.
“Oh . . . thank you,” she managed to reply.
“My pleasure,” was his reply. His gaze was electric and Diamond’s heart began to pound in her chest yet again, as it had in the museum, but this time for very different reasons. Was she just imagining it, or was that the same face that she saw on the cover of Le Finance? No, it couldn’t be Baptiste Laurent. It would be far too much of a coincidence.
“I’m sorry, I feel like I’ve seen you before,” Diamond said, shaking her head. A warm smile came to his lips.
“Most likely.” His speech was heavily accented, but each word rang out as clear as a bell. “I turn up in the funniest places.”
Diamond laughed at his humor, and he cocked his head, inspecting Diamond with care.
“You have a pretty smile,” he said.
“Thank you,” Diamond replied, feeling her cheeks blush.
“Au revoir,” he finally said, and was off on his way. Diamond had to catch her breath once he was gone.
She managed to order, and devour with pleasure, all the food that she had planned. Once she was done, Diamond asked for the bill.
“It has been taken care of, Mademoiselle,” the waiter said.
“What?” Diamond asked, not sure if she could believe him.
“Complements of Monsieur Baptiste Laurent,” the waiter said, and walked away.
Diamond nearly fell out of her chair. She gazed out onto the Place de l'Opéra and couldn’t help but think that her trip was off to a tremendous start.