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  • Shabban by Julie Cowden

    I am about to blow your tiny mind. 

    This is a map. A map of the city of Paris, to be precise.

    Back in the dark ages you carried these around to know where’s what.  At one time, I was not very good at reading them.  I got an effective education when I traveled Europe and had to figure out things like trains, busses, escape routes and whatnot.  Here, I’ll give y’all a crash course in the ancient art of cartography.  That box in the bottom left hand corner is the legend.  It shows you the scale of the map.  Useful.  But not as useful as the compass.  Up is north.  Down is South.  Right is East.  Left is west. If you had told me then that soon our phones would interpret these concepts for us I might not have believed you.  And for some people, including my friend Jay, interpreting a map was never part of life’s plan.   

    Jay and I both studied abroad our junior year of college.  I was in London, he was at Cambridge.  Jay is a very Smart Person.  Smarter than me by a long shot.  Buuut …..  have you ever heard the phrase “book smart?”  Have you ever heard the phrase “bless his heart?”  Jay falls directly between the two.  It was clear from the beginning of our journey that I was going to be the navigator.  When Jay tried to figure out where the market across the street from our hostel in Prague was, he got hopelessly lost.  This is what I was dealing with.

    We had been travelling together for a month by the time we reached Paris.  Both of us were tired and a bit bored with each other.  The first day we strolled around the vicinity of our hotel until dinner.  I took the map along anyway.  Let me clarify, I took the GOOD map.  We had two maps of Paris.  A good one and a crappy one. We made the decision to split up the following day.  Looking back on the routine conversation we had about going our separate ways is haunting.  You never know what banal decisions set the course for a truly ridiculous “life” moment.

    We had been to So.  Many.  Museums over the month we had been travelling.  I saw David.  I saw Guernica.  I saw SOOO MANY Virgin and child-s.  Jay was dead-set on going to the Musee de Orsay.  I wanted nothing more than a walk down the Champs-Elysees with a chocolate croissant and a cigarette.  For the first time in our entire European adventure, we would go our separate ways and meet at the Louvre in the afternoon.  The decision that I made next would chart the journey of my future. 

    “Jay.  For obvious reasons, I want you to take the ‘good’ map.  Look, here is the spot we agreed to meet at 3:00 pm.  It is the Southwest corner of the Louvre.  Do you feel ok with that?  Here, I’ll circle it for you.”

    I circled it for him.  I put the crappy map in my purse for the following day’s adventure.

    Jay is an early riser.  I am ...not.   I slept in for a bit, rode the Metro, rolled into a patisserie, purchased a chocolate croissant and started my leisurely stroll down the Champs-Elysees.

    Paris is a beautiful city.  I felt positively local wandering around with my cigarette and coffee.  The weather was nice for December so I didn’t have lug around a heavy coat.  I thought about stopping at a cafe, but didn’t want to miss my appointment with Jay.  At the southwest corner of the Louvre.

    I made it to the appointed spot about fifteen minutes early.  Jay always runs about ten minutes late, but I didn’t mind.  I was on the edge of the river Seine, it was an amazing day, and I contented myself with people-watching.  There I was.  Smoking a cigarette and minding my own business.  Looking out over the river.  And then…..

    You know, sometimes in life, you are in the exact right place at the right time.  Sometimes, you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And other times, you are in the wrong place at the right time.

    A smarmy middle-aged man walked up to me.  I was perched on a concrete column overlooking the river.  He stood below me, and looked up at me.

    “You are very beautiful sitting there.  I would like to take your picture.”

    My internal alarm should have sounded there, but I thought “Hey.  I’m in Paris.  Lassiez bon temps roullez.”  Dude didn’t even have a camera.

    We started chatting.  His name was Shabbban.  He was originally from Egypt but had lived in Paris for five years.  I gave him a fake name.  He didn’t need to know my real one.  I told him I was travelling and Paris was my final destination.

    I was obviously waiting for someone because I kept one eye peeled at all times for Jay.  At one point, Shabban asked me if I was married.  I said no, but that I WAS engaged.  This was untrue.  I had a boyfriend back home in the States who would never actually ask me to marry him.   At one point, I was looking for Jay and he asked me who I was waiting for.  I said “A friend.”  Looking back on this experience, I think this was Shabban’s moment of clarity.

    He had let me smoke a few of his cigarettes (Seriously, internal alarm.  You have one job.) And now he was holding my hand.  What?  It was now fifteen minutes after 3:00.  Goddammit, Jay!  Do I have to pin a note to your shirt?!?  I decided that maximum visibility was in my best interest, so I strolled over to the edge of the plaza.  Shabban followed.  Then he kissed the back of my neck.  Oh!  There it is!  Hello, internal alarm!  I have missed you!

    “Shabban.  I am engaged, and I am waiting here for a friend.”


    To me, the word “kaput” meant “no.”  “Done for.”  “Finished.”  I replied

    “Yes, Shabban.  Kaput.”

    To Shabban, the word “kaput” meant “have sex.”  Do it.”  “Fornicate.”

    Just in case I didn’t understand him, Shabban was prepared to show me with the ol’ universal finger hole “Ahh!  Kaput!”

    I can’t believe I was actually shocked, but I was.  If I had been wearing pearls, they would have been clutched up real tight.

    “Shabban, I don’t know what made you think...I am engaged…”

    He pulled an ancient condom out of his wallet, almost like an offering.  “We can use a condom.”  Like that was some kind of gift to me. 

    “No.  Nononono…”

    The moment that happened next was what all the decisions - to split up for the day, to give Jay the good map - had been leading up to.  Shabban smiled a prideful little smile and said,

    ‘Are you sure?  It’s twenty-two centimeters.”  Aaaand once again, Shabban came through with the completely necessary gesture, showing me that his dick was roughly the length of his wrist to his elbow.  In my mind, I was busily converting centimeters to inches.  But sadly, I had been raised in America so I was incapable.  In case you’re curious, and I know that you are, Google says 22 centimeters is 8.66142 inches.  Not too shabby, Shabban.  Also, aaaaalmost believable.

    It dawned on me that Shabban thought I was a prostitute.  How does a hooker let someone down easy?  Is that in the handbook?  I think I missed that day of class.

    I squared my shoulders up, offered my hand and said “It has been an interesting conversation.  But now I need to go find my friend who is probably looking for me.  Goodbye, Shabban.”

    Shabban took it in stride.  He looked at me a bit wistfully, smiled and said “Goodbye” and turned and walked away.  Just like that.

    I took a deep breath and giggled to myself.  Cross one off the ol’ life list...get mistaken for a hooker in Paris.  Check!  But where the hell was Jay?  He was over 30 minutes late by this point.

    I pulled out the map of Paris.  The crappy one, if you will remember.  And it was at this moment that I discover I have been waiting in the wrong place the whole time.  The Louvre is a big squared-off horseshoe.  Looking at the crappy map, it looked like I was at the southwest corner of it, just as Jay and I had agreed.  But there are two buildings that are separated from the core of the rest of the museum.  I was standing at the southwest corner of one such building.  I turned east and jogged to the entrance of the Louvre, and there he was.  Jay.  Wonderful, blameless Jay.  Bless his heart.