Updated: Aug 12
When I was 16 years old, I spent a year in France as an exchange student. Part of this time I was based in the north of the country, in a small city called Tourcoing, staying with a couple. They were not supposed to foster me, but long story short, I ended up there, right in the middle of their marital crisis. They would split their time between fighting or running away from each other – and from the house. Sandra was a costume designer and did Opera wardrobe, which led her to spending a lot of time in Paris. Emmanuel was an Opera set artist with a studio in Belgium, which was just a few blocks away from the house. When they were not there, I was afraid of staying alone. As a result, I avoided staying in and spent most of my time after school in the city. I still had no friends and was feeling homesick. When the winter hit, I could no longer wander around. Both the public pool and the library closed at 4pm, when it was already getting dark outside. I would, then, hide in a coffeeshop or fast food restaurant.
My own Cinema Paradiso
One evening, after I left my favorite McDonald’s spot, I took a shortcut and ended up walking down a street I had never been on. That’s when I noticed something that would change my life in many aspects: a small, nondescript movie theater – the only one in town, as I learned later on. It was perfect: I missed going to the movies, where it was warm and cozy. Sex, lies and Videotapes was starting right away – so I bought my ticket and snuck in!
As I entered the screening room, I felt like I was in my own Cinema Paradiso: the space was empty. I was expecting to see people from my school there. Expecting to see young people. Old people. Regulars. But no: I was the only one there. Just me, the screen and the projectionist.
For over ninety minutes, I let my brain drift into the characters’ lives and drive me through their mazes. At the end of the film, I felt fantastic: the movie magic worked on me! As I walked back home, something occurred to me: if I started going to the movies every time I felt lonely, I would never feel lonely again!
By the time I got back home, around 9pm, all the lights were off, and I suspected that the couple was either asleep, or parted ways, going respectively to Paris and Belgium. Sure enough, next day after school I decided to go back to the movie theater. I bought an unlimited pass, so I could always escape to the dark room. The truth was that I hated both being alone in that huge house and being in the middle of their fights.
The only problem with my plan was that it was a one-film-a-week movie theater. So I had to watch the same film again and again. I got versed in Dick Tracy, Goodfellas, The Hot Spot, Ghost and Wild Orchid. But it was during Dick Tracy’s week that something enthusing happened.
On my very first day watching the famous detective, I had a surprise: someone else was at the movies! Not only someone else, but a very cute guy. Awfully cute. The cutest I had ever seen around. He looked my way for most of the film, so much so I could barely focus on the story. As I left the theater, I saw his face clearly and felt instantly attracted.
Bells and Whistles
As I walked back home, he walked in the same direction, using the opposite sidewalk. Same pace, almost imitating. Then he started whistling the main soundtrack song of the film. I smiled. He smiled back. I thought about crossing the street – but I wanted him to cross it first! Suddenly, he took a left turn and disappeared into thin air. I wandered around a bit, trying to find him. The soulless streets felt wilted. The white snow covering the sidewalks made me think that I just had a hallucination – like the ones you have when you are in the desert.
Next day, I went again to the movies – same session. I wanted to pay attention to the story this time around. Also, the couple was back home, fighting like hell. I figured: the longer I stayed away, the better.
Kissing at the Movies
As I sat there, alone again, missing the previous day and that stranger on the other side of the room. The recent memory went away as I started to enjoy the film, laughing a bit here and there. That was when I heard someone entering the screening room. I thought it was the box office / projectionist man who, by now, was used to my sole presence. But then the person moved closer to me and sat by my side. I didn't dare to look, frightened by what was going on. Was the movie theater safe? Could the projectionist do something to me? I had never ever thought about any danger until now!
I got stiff as steel in my seat, and then he started whistling the film soundtrack… it wasn't the projectionist – it was him! Cutest guy of Tourcoing!
We looked at each other and smiled.
“I was afraid I would never see you again,” he said.
“Well, you found me…,” I replied.
“I’m Romain, by the way”.
At this point, we forgot about Dick Tracy started chatting. Half an hour later, out of the blue, he kissed me! And I… kissed him back! I had forgotten how good it was, a simple kiss to make your soul lighter. Oh, Romain! He was from Paris, just on a quick business trip. As we left the movie theater, he had to rush to meet with his boss for dinner, so we made plans to meet up again there, same hour, same movie session, next day. For the first time since I had left Brazil, I slept well, very well. My heart was alive in my chest again, and Romain, whom I knew very little about, besides his taste and his masculine smell, was the reason.
*to be continued next week! Don’t miss my date with Romain!