Prompt Me! The Stranger–Paris Latin Quarter

The Stranger

The Prompt: You’re walking home from work one night and taking shortcuts through a labyrinth of dark city alleyways to meet someone on time. Suddenly, a stranger parts the shadows in front of you, comes close and asks you to hold out your palm. You oblige.

I’ve always prided myself on being able to be in control of myself and my life. I’ve spent the better part of 28 years being in control. Yet that night last summer stands out because it was so out of my control, so out of my character.

I was walking back to my apartment in the Latin Quarter in Paris. The streets twisted and turned, dark haired, dark eyed men were hawking their restaurant’s specials, reaching out to tourists as they passed by. They knew me by now, they knew that I was even too poor to buy the cheap meals that they were promoting.

No fancy French fare here. No, this was Greek, Italian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern food. Small storefronts, the hand-full of tables, white or checkered tablecloths. The tourists would pause, surreptitiously looking at the prices on them menus, then skirting from side to side. The narrow streets were home to trinket shops, gauzy dress shops selling Italian made women’s clothing, cheap, but stylish.

I turned the corner, the last few blocks from my apartment, the street even narrower than the preceding alley. Out of the shadow a form slipped out, and loomed large in front of me, even though his frame was slight. He reached out for my hand that was gripping my cross-body bag.

He said, “Don’t be afraid, lend me your hand.”

I loosened my grip, and pushing my bag so that it was behind me, I reached out, palm up, and offered my hand to this stranger.

He reached out, and with a smooth and un-calloused hand, cupped my hand in his. He looked down, traced my lifeline with the index finger of his other hand, and said, “Ah, you have a long, un-broken line. You shall live long and prosper.”

I was just beginning to wonder what Star Wars had to do with this encounter, when he put a small jewelry box in my hand. He wrapped my fingers around it, and with a smile, he disappeared back into the shadows.

I looked at the box, curious, yet vexed. “What could this be?” I wondered. “Who was this guy, and why me?”

Cautiously I opened the box. Inside was a large pearl set in a scalloped gold setting. It was a ring that had been stolen from me 35 years before. My aunt in Japan had given it to me.

There was a note inside. I unfolded the paper, once, twice, three times. Finally, in small but careful handwriting, the note said, “This ring has brought me nothing but sadness and misery. I give it back to you. Good riddance.”

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