Lost in Paris... or rather The Red-Light District

March 9, 2010

The sunset is fading like a stain from a shirt. We hurry down the cobbled side-walks, my mom stops us and checks her map. Paris. Even if you lived your entire life in the city you could never know the myriad of twisting, narrow alley-ways.
My mom grimaces and tries to inconspicuously hide it with a smile. We follow her to the next street, but she looks confused. Her head swivels. Left? Right? Now I am feeling nervous and uncomfortable-- three girls under fifteen, one mother, lost in Paris: at night. Any sane person knows that to be unaccompanied at night in any big city is asking for trouble.
My youngest sister starts to grumble about her aching feet. My mom glances at her watch: 8:30 p.m. “Girls, it’s getting late and we need to get back to our hotel, I’m not quite sure what street we’re on, so I need to concentrate and look at the map, just wait okay?” She looks strained, and I automatically scan the dodgy shadows for potential threats. After a few minutes of squinting at the map Mom’s eyes light up, and hope diffuses through her face. “Yeah! I found our street; I think it’s actually the one we’re on! So if we just walk, erm. . . this way, we’ll be there in no time.”
After a few minutes of walking, the buildings around us are gradually becoming more grimy and seedy. I keep expecting to see the familiar street to our hotel appear out of the growing gloom, but everything is still unfamiliar and my heart is pounding. Looking over at my sisters I see that even their usual banter has stopped, their exhausted faces drooping. Now all of our feet are hurting, swollen from our peregrination across Paris. “Any minute now,” my mom keeps on saying, but the panic has sneaked into her weary features. We turn the corner, and I receive the shock of my young life.
They glare at us from beneath dark doorways and neon signs. Smoking their cigarettes, in red, skimpy dresses, features twisted cold and bitter by time and occupation. Realization hits me and a blush of embarrassment, and mortification creeps to my cheeks. I hear their unfeeling snickers as we scurry past, anxious to leave. We don’t belong in this part of the city. My little sister doesn’t understand is asking my mom in loud English, “Who were those women? Why were they all in red?” In embarrassment for her, and my mom for having to explain, another blush climbs my cheek. I can’t wait to get back to the lovely crowded, touristy bits; nice and safe, with lots of signs.
When we are comfortable distance away, my mom pulls out the wrinkled map again. She discovers that we actually have been on the right street we were simply walking in the wrong direction. Feeling sticky with trepidation and exhaustion we decide to splurge and take the metro to the stop just across the street from our hotel and in relief, spend the remainder of our evening recovering and marking that particular area off.

The author's comments:
I think map-reading should be a skill learned with the upmost care.

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