All I wanted was groceries from Grand Frais.
It was Thursday afternoon and I had spent the day at one of my schools for a day of observation. For much of the time, I was the one being observed, I think. At recess I was surrounded, asked by shy, curious faces:
Do you know Barack Obama?
Do you know the Queen of England?
What’s your husband’s name?
You’re American? How do you know English?!
One little girl smacked her friend’s arm. They speak English là-bas! Duh!
This was all in French, which they curiously didn’t seem surprised I spoke.
Afterwards, I took the bus home. We were a few stops away when everyone exited the bus apart from me and the driver, who sat flipping through a magazine while the bus idled.
Great. Excusez-moi, what’s going on? (I prefaced this with a handy phrase I use on the daily: I’m new here).
He told me it was just the daily break. I wondered how long it was, if I should get off and start walking, but he interrupted my thoughts. “Mais vous n’êtes pas française !”
No, I’m American. Thrilled, he told me he loves American culture. We talked about movies, language barriers, and the sad reality of terrorist attacks in France. He started driving again, looking back over his shoulder every few seconds with a new question. Have you been to Paris? Florida? What do you think of Trump? When are you going back to the States? His interest was lovely, but as the bus lurched all over the road on slammed brakes, I started to feel a little green. A lot green. My blood sugar must have been off or something, and it didn’t help that I was sitting backwards and craning over my shoulder to talk to the driver. In any case, once more people climbed aboard the bus and it became less appropriate to yell back and forth about Gérard Depardieu, I made my way to the back of the bus and rested my head on a cold window.
Prochain arrêt: Courbet. I was never so grateful to hear those words. At home I lay down, drank some water, and thought about what to make for dinner. I had Nutella, grapes, a half-eaten éclair, and cubes of chicken bouillon. I’ve had some experience in the kitchen but realized I’d need a loaves-and-fishes style miracle if I was going to make a proper meal out of that.
Unfortunately, it was nearly six. My favorite place to grocery shop closes at 7:30, all others 8. The buses stop running at about 8; if I miss them it’s a 40-minute walk there and back.
I sat up, determined, visions of tagliatelle and bolognese dancing in my head. I could rest later. I grabbed my reusable grocery bag, faced my fear of maps, and made a plan. I got to the stop just as a bus was pulling up. I didn’t stop and consider, as one should, if it was the right bus. It was a bus and I needed to go somewhere quickly. (This is a very problematic nervous habit as you might imagine).
I climbed aboard, regretting my decision even as I made it, and saw none other than the same chatty bus driver from before. The bus turned, opposite of where I knew I needed to go, and my heart sank and my bus-induced nausea returned. I ventured a hope: will we be stopping anywhere near Grand Frais peut-être ?!
He shrugged, no, not really, but didn’t offer any advice. Anyway, wasn’t I just here to chat about movie stars?
I looked the store up on my phone’s Google Maps, watching my blue dot get closer and closer. A predicted 40 minute walk went to 30 went to 18…and I jumped off the bus before my good luck ran out. I walked as quickly as I could, dodging a construction zone in back of the store. I’d have plenty of time to shop and still catch a bus!
I fumbled for a euro, slid the coin into the slot, and wheeled my cart up to the entrance of the store before I was stopped by a group of construction workers. See, the store hadn’t actually opened yet. Try again, mademoiselle, in about five days, a younger guy told me, clearly trying not to laugh. Ah yes. That would explain the sound of jackhammers and the fine coating of dust over everything in sight.
I had to laugh. And then get out of there as quickly as possible.
Now I was, according to my Maps, a good hour’s walk away from the right Grand Frais. My phone, my navigation source, promptly died. Somehow I made it anyway, on crying feet, not to Grand Frais but a different store, with about ten minutes’ time to throw some bread, cheese, and chicken into a basket before the store closed.
Then it was forty minutes, mostly uphill, back home in the dark with bleeding blisters and a stomachache and a heavy bag of groceries.
If anything, maybe this will finally, finally teach me to figure out where I’m going before I go (and hopefully before I become the American laughingstock of Montluçon).
Either that or I’ll have to make hitchhiking cool again.