It was just about midnight and I was in the midst of the most diverse tour group ever, trying to get unto the Eiffel Tower. In the pack was an American couple, some friends from the Middle East, a German, an Ethiopian, and me – Nigerian. The tour guide, who was my friend, was also Nigerian and you could easily tell by the bravado he carried himself with – one Nigerians didn’t hesitate to show you especially when they were leading or winning.
Leye, the tour guide, had relocated to Paris just two years earlier and made a job out of his pastime of showing people round the City Of Lights. The weather was misty and cold, and the group walked slowly as a pack with our earphones plugged in, through the lit and bubbly streets of Palais de Chaillot, right on Avenue Winston Churchill listening to Leye tell us the history of the Eiffel Tower and the French Revolution. Save for me, who was slightly panicked about being smuggled in, everybody else seemed excited.
“Like everyone who comes to Paris for the first time and wants to go up the Eiffel Tower, A certain man came here around 1939 – 1944, without a passport, VISA, or an invitation. He was completely unwelcome. Anyone knows who I’m talking about?”
We got to the gate of La Tour Eiffel and passed through security – which was way more scrupulous than I had imagined. Then we got our passes and headed to the next level of security that was going to welcome us aboard the Tower.
By the time we got to the gate, the group funneled into a straight line as we showed our papers for verification before we were allowed to get in. Just when it was my turn to show my – God help me it’s legitimate – pass and walk into the gigantic historical monument, I felt it. A heaviness, a discomfort I had felt minutes before but completely ignored. With the robustness and fragility of an overblown balloon, my bladder had stretched itself to the limits of its elasticity and I had to go – now. Right now.
It was my last day in Paris and I had spent the entire day shopping for souvenirs for my siblings, friends, sort-of friends, lover, ex-lover, and almost anybody who asked me to bring something “Parisan” for them from my vacation. The vacation lasted for what seemed like two minutes and I had spent the period exploring Paris first, with my parents, and later with, Leye, the friend I had been introduced to while coming on the trip.
While I would ordinarily have stayed within my hotel environs or at least ended my rendezvous early enough so I could catch an early sleep and wake up in time for my flight back to Lagos, I needed to return some of Leye’s personal effects that he had magnanimously given to me the previous day to save me from different kinds of deaths – a scarf and a power bank.
So, after shopping, I returned to my hotel room, picked up my carton-colored winter jacket and my bag, and was soon on my way to the metro. It was already 6:30pm. He had told me that he had a series of interviews and would only be able to see me after, so he gave me a detailed description of how I was going to get to him – a description which involved underground trains, a bus, a few minutes of walking, and a need to possibly ask strangers for directions.
It was on this journey that I realized my iPhone charger had gone bad. When I got to the last bus stop on the map he had sent to me via Whatsapp, I decided that it would be a good idea to sit in a bar to wait for him. On one hand, a bar packed with excited French men seemed like the safest place to wait, and on the other, I cannot deny that I was slightly curious about what beer in Paris tasted like.
I pointed at dispensary tagged with the label ‘1664’ and asked for a large pint. I took my seat on a table for two, and sipped then chugged then sipped again before pulling out my phone to look at the map. When I realized I was still about 3-minutes’ walk away from Leye’s live location, I gorged down the remains of my cup and continued walking until I got to the exact spot the map led me to. It was the intersection of a road, and since I couldn’t still reach him, I walked into yet another bar – a nearby bistro known as Bistro Resto and ordered another pint of 1664.
When Leye was done with his interviews, he met me at the bistro and we were walking again. To make my last night in Paris memorable, he had an amazing idea. He suggested that we partook in a common Paris tradition which involved drinking wine straight out of the bottle while walking the streets. In true French style, we walked into a restaurant, selected the finest affordable bottle of white wine we could find, and were soon strolling by drinking wine and eating macaroons.
Soon it was time for me to return to my hotel and for him to head to the tour he was going to be giving at the Eiffel Tower. But since we were still excited and maybe a little too tipsy to part ways, he offered that I joined him on the tour. He was going to get me in. If for anything, seeing the view of Paris from the Eiffel tower, was also another wonderful thing to do on my last night in the city.
So, it was neither the time nor place to be plagued by the burden of a full bladder. The drinks had all kicked in. Asides the fact that I had never known how to hold my bladder, I had really – really – reached the point where I could no longer psychologically try to control my body. At this point as well, my phone battery was stone dead. I had three options: option 1 was to move on with the team until the dam broke; option 2 was to get the entire team to come out of the tower after passing the detailed security process and wait for me to use the restroom and return, and option 3 was to simply walk away when they weren’t looking to use the toilet and locate the team right after. I chose option 3.
I dashed to the restroom, did my business, went through security again, and was soon inside the tower. I wasn’t prepared for the teeming crowd of eager tourists I found within the walls of the tower. I also wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Leye’s voice had broken off when I left the tower but the frequency came back on when I got closer. I heard him talk about the architecture of the tower, and then about how their passes only cleared them for the second level of the tower so I knew all I had to do was get to the second layer to find them. It was in that very moment that I heard all my dreams and hopes break away. He disengaged the team.
“Thank you for your time and have a wonderful night.” The frequency went off.
I didn’t start panicking until I had moved round the second level of the tower, shifting my eyes from one person to another, and from one group to another without finding him. Then I decided to go back down and maybe wait at the gate of the Tower. The queue leading to the escalator was going to take forever so I walked 669 steps to the ground floor. It was then that I learnt that there were multiple ways to enter and exit the Eiffel Tower. The entrance was completely different.
It was almost as if I was on another street altogether. I still – desperately – skimmed through crowds and small groups if, maybe, I could find somebody from the group. Maybe, by some miracle, Leye himself. But it was no use. I had no idea where I was, no knowledge of French, a flat battery, and zero idea on how to find my way anywhere. It was something close to 1am and I walked out the tower still searching. Hoping that one of the few people my eyes would meet out of the thousands of people there, would be him.
I moved around slowly trying to calm down. But after searching and walking past the surrounding streets for about 30 minutes, I decided to do the only thing I was apparently good at in Paris – finding temporary shelters. This time, I went to a restaurant. It was cozy and quiet. My dad had told me a few days ago that you only worry about getting lost when you had no money. He was right.
I walked into Castel Café and ordered a glass of white wine and the best Crepe I had tasted in the city. The restaurant was about rounding off for the day but it was more than enough time to borrow a charger from a waiter to get my phone back on. The light that peered out of my phone was something close to redemption and Leye’s worried voice on the other end of the phone was peace to my ears.
Like the perfect resolution of a romance story, he found me; I had never felt a happiness so complete. In Leye’s words, “No regrets. You don’t do Paris every now and then.”