“Do you know of anyone who might be hiring for the day?” Augustin asked a man working behind a newspaper kiosk by the river, who was just opening up.
The man read all of the newspapers, especially the job listings, and knew who might be looking to hire someone for a day’s work.
“What can you do?” the man asked
“I’m pretty good with machines”
“I would try the garage up that a way”
Augustin tried the garage but got the answer he usually got: sorry son, we’re not hiring anyone today. He crossed onto the Left Bank via the Pont au Double in hopes that someone might have work for him there. Something must be waiting for him on the other side of the Pont au Double, something that would change his luck for the better.
At age twenty, Augustin Lerou was a tall, wiry young man with large green eyes and a crooked smile set in the strong, square features of his face. His dark hair was worn in an attempt at being short and slick as was the fashion of the time but it always kept springing back to it’s natural curl. In his lithe frame and lean muscles there was the restless energy of someone who hated to be confined and sitting still. He could handle himself in a fight if one found him though it was not in his nature to go looking for them. If life had made him one thing, it was tough. But there was still something of the naïvité of youth about him; he passionately loved those he liked and passionately hated those he disliked.
The dim pearl grey light of early morning cast long shadows on the greenish waters of the river. Behind him, the buttresses of Notre Dame loomed against the pink and yellow sky like the legs of a giant spider.
Paris was yawning and stretching and trying to wake herself up. The streets were full of groggy looking people shuffling through on their way to work or to try to find work in a blur of faded blue, dull grey, and dirty brown.
The smell of fresh bread from a nearby bakery tickled his nose and taunted him mercilessly. Not that he needed any reminding of how empty his stomach was. The stronger the smell of bread became. the more faint with hunger he became.
Augustin walked over towards a produce stand and his mouth watered at the sight of the ripe, apples in the basket in front of him. Next to him was a prosperous looking bourgeois who was talking with the grocer. Despite the bourgeois’s neat appearance, there was a large hole in the breast pocket of his paisley shirt.
Augustin noticed something on the ground near the man’s feet. It was a red morocco leather wallet which had fallen through the hole in his pocket when he had went to put it back after paying for his groceries. The edges of a thick wad of francs stuck out temptingly. Augustin deftly picked it up but had a strange feeling that someone had seen him.
“Hey” a booming voice shouted.
The booming voice belonged to a policeman with a gruff, bulldog like face who had been patrolling near by.
Augustin’s next instinct was to bolt it. He ran down the Boulevard St. Michel towards the Jardin du Luxembourg with the policeman in pursuit hurling abuses at him. He was quick but Augustin was faster. When the policeman began to lose his trail, he darted down an alleyway and found an open door which lead into a building where he could hide out for a while. Sometimes it was too easy.
He found himself in the kitchen of a café and face to face with a startled waitress.
“Shhh Mademoiselle” he told her, panting and out of breath “I don’t want any trouble. Just let me hide here for a little while”
“Is someone after you?” the girl asked him. She had a soft, low, and breathy voice which made her sound a bit tired.
“Probably. Listen, I don’t want to get you into any trouble but I really need to stay here until the coast is clear for me”
He gave her one of the charming, crooked, smiles which had gotten him out of many a scrape before.
She closed the door behind him and lead him further into the kitchen. After the original shock had worn off, the girl was surprisingly calm, as if she harbored strange men all the time. She looked him over critically as if she was trying to figure out where she had seen him before.
“ So how did you end up here?”
“This flic said I took a man’s wallet so I bolted and he started chasing me”
“ Did you take the man’s wallet?”
He did not answer
“This flic said you took a man’s wallet, so you bolted. He started chasing you and you ran and decided to hide out here”
Her repeating everything seemed to come more from a sarcastic disbelief than from confusion.
“That’s about it. By the way, thanks for helping me out.” he extended his hand for her to shake “Augustin Lerou”
“Marianne d’Aubrey” she shook it.
It was fitting that the young woman who helped him escape to freedom would be named after Liberté herself. Liberté was small and slight but there was nothing dainty or fragile about her; her form had a strength and sturdiness to it. The features of her fresh, youthful face were not particularly beautiful in themselves, her gentle grey-hazel eyes were a bit small and squinty, her nose was a bit too snub and broad, her coral mouth was a bit too large and was a bit full as if there was still a touch of babyhood about her, and her jaw was a bit square and masculine, but the entire face was immensely pleasing and interesting. Her blond hair was pulled back into a low bun with damp and frizzy little curls framing her forehead and she wore the uniform of a waitress with pride.
She gave him the sweetest smile he had ever seen; a smile which made her face radiate and would make a film star envious.
“You have a beautiful smile but I bet you hear that all the time”
“Well yes, I do. Now I know where I’ve seen you before. You were at my cousin’s wedding and her new husband threw you out. Now I see you are a thief as well as party crasher”
Looking her over a few more times, he recognized her as the fair haired girl he had seen at the wedding. The world surely was a remarkable place.
“Give me your hand”
“I’ll read your fortune for you. My grandmother was Algerian and she taught me how to read palms.”
“You know, I don’t usually talk to strangers”
“But like you’ve said, we’ve seen each other before”
He took one of her small, soft, childlike hands in his. The backs of her fingers were a bit callused and there were the red painted fingernails he remembered. She wore an old square shaped silver ring set with a small red stone which winked temptingly against her rosy skin. His thumb slowly traced the lines in her right palm as he looked into her eyes and read her like a book.
“Well, your heart line begins in the middle which means that you fall in love easily. Your head line is wavy; you have a short attention span. Your fate line is deep. Cup your hand for me“
He felt her rectangular palms and short fingers with almond shaped nails and the bumps of flesh under her fingers. The bump under her pinky being the most pronounced.
“ You are lively and sweet and like to talk. I see that today you are going to wait tables and do all the things you usually do here. You’re going to talk to people about stuff that’s irrelevant that you are not going to remember for long afterwards. Later you are going to go home, have dinner, go to bed, and wake up the next morning to do the whole thing over again. “
The young man gave her hand a soft kiss on the palm before disappearing.