This time the entrances to the métro near the Opera did not jump away. They stayed right where they are. I descended them without any trouble. And while I did that, I thought about the words of the statue. What exactly did it entail that I was no longer the protagonist?
I mean, I was still me, I was still thinking about my story and what I wanted to achieve. But maybe that wasn’t enough.
The red book in my hands showed the words instead of a map or any kind of direction.
“What does it mean?”
The letters on the page changed and formed the text: “It means, that yours is not the main story. It’s Alphonse’s now. Yours is not the voice to follow.”
“Yeah, but what does that mean?”
What DOES that mean, I wondered? And just like that I understood that…
…just like that, Mike was gone.
I waited for the train to pull out of the Gare du Nord, watched it leave towards Germany.
It took me three attempts to calm my nerves and to write the text message: “Mike, please, snap out of it. I don’t know what that man who claimed to be your father said or did, but that’s not you. You can’t simply give up on everything. Let me help you, please! He has done a number on you.”
There was no answer. After a couple of minutes I added: “I love you.”
I hit the “send” button, but there was a weird sound from my mobile and a window popped up: “The recipient of that message has blocked you. It was not delivered.”
I stared at the window for a while. The next train pulled into the station and spat out tourists and locals on their way into the French capital. I glanced around, hoping that one of them would be Mike, as unlikely that was.
Heck, after days of miraculous and amazing things that happened, that would have been a tiny, almost unnoticeable miracle. But it didn’t happen.
The minotaur, that vision of his father, had indeed done a number on him and that wouldn’t go away. I clenched my fists and turned around.
I returned to my hotel and tried to sleep. Instead, I stared at the ceiling all night, trying to remember every little detail of our journey.
How we met on the train to Paris, what we told each other, what we experienced together. And what I hadn’t told him.
That I was a runaway too, in a sense. I wondered what my minotaur would look like, what he would say, who he would be. Maybe the priest at the Christian school who told me that I was satan’s offspring that I would not amount to anything. Maybe the fifteen year old me that believed him. Maybe… maybe the twenty year old me that still believed him. Maybe me, today, who never really amounted to anything aside from being an heir.
In the early hours of the morning, I finally fell asleep and I dreamed of tunnels and Mike’s father. A priest told me that I would never find him again and that I should get a proper job and don’t waste time with that juggling nonsense. My father died and told me that I was even too inept for dying at the right time and my mother had a car accident because the tunnel she drove in meandered.
The chambermaid opened the door and quickly apologised, closing it again. But now I was awake. I didn’t know what to do. I flicked through my phone and looked at different contacts, trying to remember where they lived and how far away from Paris they would be. My finger finally lingered over Jacques’ number.
I had a fling with him a while ago and last I heard, he worked at the opera house. That was a weak link, but at least he was in Paris.
“Alphonse?” he answered after only two tones.
“Wow, I haven’t talked to you in ages? How have you been?”
“Well, you know, on and off. Do you still work at the opera house?”
“Indeed I am, currently working behind the scenes of the latest production of Turandot. Wanna come?”
I never felt comfortable wearing a suit, but I had to admit that I felt like the proverbial thousand bucks when I entered the building. People in fancy dresses and with even fancier jewellery swarmed in the lobby. Jacques had left a last-minute ticket at the ticket office for me. It was one of the best seats in the house – I didn’t want to ask what the normal price was.
Jacques worked as one of the stage hands, so I had to wait for the show to be over to speak with him. Which meant that during the interval, I felt incredibly out of place next to all the high society people around me. But after the show, when I waited in the lobby, he finally stormed in.
“Alphonse! So good to see you! Did you enjoy it?”
“Yes! Yes, I did! It was amazing!”
“Yes, isn’t it? They don’t call this house the house of many heroes for nothing.”
I felt as if a ton of bricks had fallen from the ceiling on me and if somebody had splashed ice-cold water over my back.
“The… the house of many heroes? As in: heroes abound?”
“Yes, next month we will start a new production of the Magic Flute, oh, it will be great…”
I droned out, I couldn’t listen anymore. My gaze went around the room, which began to spin. In one corner I saw a painting. The opera house, but the street lamps in front of it were black and there were strange contraptions attached to it.
“Jacques, what’s… what’s that there? In the corner?”
“Oh, that? Well. In the 19th century there was this crazy dude who imagined to have blimps dock at the street lamps, he called it an air tram. At that time there were several metro lines built underneath the square in front of the opera, but as track switches hadn’t been invented yet for the underground systems, the plan was to make them run across from each other, several stories high. That would have been quite expensive, so this was discussed as an alternative.”
“You mean to say,” I stammered, “that there are several stories of crossing métro lines underneath the square?”
“Yes. Wait, where are you going?”
I leapt up and ran out. I pulled off the bowtie around my neck and ran towards the métro station.
“We had it all wrong Mike, all wrong! This is the spot! Not the pantheon, it was the opera house all along! Well, not the house, but the métro lines underneath it.”
The passenger next to me looked at me in a funny way and I realised that I had said all that out loud, as if Mike was still with me. He called me a weirdo and kept his distance. After a flurry of stairs and steps I finally arrived at the platform. The next train would arrive in two minutes. The man I had mistaken for Mike arrived at the platform too. He was quiet, but he shouted out “Hey, what are you doing!” when he saw that I jumped over the “do not cross!” sign at the end of the platform and ran into the métro tunnel.