The Prompt: A stranger asks to borrow your cell phone. You agree. She turns away and talks on it for a moment, then faces you once more. “I’m sorry,” she says, eyes red. “I’m so sorry.” Then, she runs away.
I was queuing through the line at Versailles, outside of Paris. Me and a zillion other tourists, so many Americans you would think we were back in New York or San Francisco. I was being pushed along by the masses, viewing one golden room after another. After the first 10 or 12 gilded rooms, they all started to look alike. I was also distracted because I had become separated from my husband, and he wasn’t picking up.
I was on a landing between two sections of the palace when a young woman came up to me frantically gesticulating, asking if I spoke English, wanting to use my cell phone. She was dressed in black, typical slim Frenchie, with a fashionable gold chunky necklace that’s so popular right now. She had a young girl with her, about 12 years old. She said it was an emergency, that it would be a local call, I wouldn’t have charges on my phone. “I have lost my husband,” she blurted.
I pulled out my iPhone and handed it to her. She quickly turned away from me and put the phone to her ear. I stood watching her back, then looking the little girl over from head to toe. She looked like a Parisian, like her mother, or whoever the distraught lady was. The little girls stood quietly, holding the hem of the woman’s shirt, peering up at me, then towards the woman.
The woman didn’t say anything, she just held the phone to her ear. I was ready to tap her on the shoulder, when she abruptly turned to face me, her eyes wide, “I’m sorry,” she said, eyes red. “I’m so sorry. Je suis désolé.”
She handed me my phone and she and the little girl disappeared in the crowd. I was ready to follow her, but when I say they disappeared, they really did vanish into the masses of tank tops and jeans, back packs and cell phones snapping photos. I looked down at my phone. A hiking picture of my husband and me, my screen saver picture, is all I see.
I unlocked the phone by pressing my index finger to the home button. The screen popped, and my apps appear. I swipe down, and the most recent activities show up. The last one was a phone call, a number I don’t recognize, but foreign. I hit redial. It’s the first aid station.
The voice on the other end spoke rapidly in French. I asked, “Parlez vous anglais, s’il vous plait?”
“Ah, mais oui. May I help you?” the voice asked.
“Yes, I just loaned my phone to a woman, and this was the last number. This is my phone. Can you tell me if you talked to her?”
“She did not dial us, we dialed this number. Perhaps we are mistaken? The woman we talked to, was…?”
“I don’t know. Can you tell me what this is about?” I asked. There was a pause.
“Is this Missus Wesley Smith?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I’m Delores Smith. What is this about?” I was getting panicked.
“We have your husband here in the medical aid room. He was mugged by a man and a woman with a young girl. They have taken his portfeuille, ah, his wallet. We called your cell and spoke to a woman, we thought it was you, was it not?” the voice asked.
“It was a woman and a young girl, maybe 12 years old,” I replied. “May I speak to my husband?” I could hear the person fumbling with the phone.
I hear, “Hello? Honey?”
“Wes, are you OK? I’m walking towards the aid room right now. Can you describe the people who attacked you?” I said breathlessly.
“The guy was about 30, maybe 5-9. Typical skinny Frenchman. The woman had long dark hair, black dress, big gold necklace on, the little girl was, well, I don’t know. A little girl. Like maybe 5th grader or pre-teen.”