A Tale Of Two Cultures

This week's Fiction Friday prompt asks us to pick two established characters from your previous work and tell the story of their meeting. I've chosen Simon, my itinerant Irishman who finally settles down in France and Elizabeth who after a long voyage of self-discovery finally discovered her life was intricately linked up with Africa. Several years later...

When he saw the drizzle outside, Simon began to have his doubts. He turned away from the window and glanced up at the fine grandfather clock in the corner of his salon. Just ten more minutes before the taxi came. Too late for doubts.

He picked up the CD she'd given him when he'd met her at the airport yesterday evening: Mama Etta's Bongo Supreme.

"They're really very good. They're the first band from Dahc to make it onto the world stage."

He'd listened to a couple of the titles, just to say he had, should she ask. He placed the CD in the rack between underneath the Irish Folk section, making mental note to write a label for musique du monde. Strange how some expressions just refused to come to him now in English. The internal phone buzzed: the portier telling him the taxi was on its way. Passing in front of the mirror to straighten his tie, he picked up the bouquet and made his way out.

They pulled up in front of the hotel some five minutes later and before he knew it an apparition in traditional African clothing came racing out of the hotel and opened the door to the taxi. How Simon stared. Her hair was made up in ringed sticks which stood out at angles from her head. He stared and stared not knowing what to think or say. He even forgot to make to make room for her to get into the taxi and she almost had to push him over.

As she leaned across and gave him a peck on the cheek the bouquet of her perfume roused him. He took her hand with not quite his usual eagerness and pressed his lips to it. It was one of the most exquisite perfumes he had ever come across. She was obviously a connaisseur. Was that her one redeeming feature? Maybe things would work out okay. She was certainly a beautiful woman with her tall, straight figure and the fine features of her face. If only she wouldn't stop behaving like a child all the time. She was like a bottle of freshly opened Champagne, bubbling away with all her might as she babbled on at all there was to see. Was there no end to her enthusiasm.

The taxi pulled up in front of the Arpège and Simon scuttled out and handed the Majeur d' the box containing the bouquet. He then opened the door for Elizabeth and taking her arm accompanied her inside.He was acutely aware that every eye was fixed on them as they made their way to the small private chamber he had ordered for the occasion. Would the table-talk revolve around her beauty or her outlandish appearance. Surely, Arpège had never seen anything like it. Was it his fault? Should he have prepared her? But how?They'd only met for the first time yesterday. True her letters had been full of Africa. But never once had he suspected anything like this.

He lead her to their table and pulled the chair out for her, giving an almost imperceptible nod to the waiter. He had scarcely sat down himself when she started.

"Oh Simon, you can't possibly imagine how I feel. It's all so heavenly like in a fairy story. Here in Paris, in the shadow of so much history. And all these wonderful things happening to me. Aaaah, yellow roses! My favourite colour. How on earth could you have known!"

He blushed; whether out her embarrassment at her shriek or due to his stroke of luck with the roses, we shall refrain from enquiring. The waiter returned again, champagne bucket in hand.

"Oh, what's that? I'm afraid I couldn't possibly drink that. I'm not a drinker. Seen to many lives ruined by it. I hope you don't mind, but I really don't drink." Her smile failed to penetrate.

"This isn't drinking, it's Champagne. You can't possibly refuse Champagne."

But it became perfectly obvious that that's what she intended doing and with a sigh he ordered her a bottle of Peregrinet - "Sparkling, if you please," she added.

They chatted a while but somehow life had gone out of their conversation. Could this really be the vibrant lady he had been corresponding with these past months; he'd thought her so charming, so refined. And once they'd exchanged photos, he knew he had to meet her. Where had he gone wrong?

The waiter brought in the dishes for the snails. She seemed puzzled.


"How wonderful." She clapped her hands together. "I love snails." But why all these dishes. What on earth are they for?"

He opened his mouth and was about to give an explanation but thought better of it.

"You ate snails in Dahc? So how did you prepare them?"

"We chop them up in the lettuce, of course. How else can you prepare snails."

He didn't bother answering. Was she really trying to tell him she ate raw snails straight from the garden? She obviously had no idea of how civilised people ate them. He helped her as well as he could. She didn't seem terribly keen on them. The waiter cleared up the dishes and reappeared with the dinner plates and an innumerable number of knives and forks. Elizabeth gave him an anxious smile.

"I'm afraid you're going to have to help me. I'm just not used to all this finery. In Africa everything is far simpler. Most times use our fingers."

Simon stared at her with disgust. Wiping his mouth with his serviette he leant forward:

"Would you please excuse me a minute."

He got up and left the room discreetly. He went immediately to the Majeur d' and whispered into his ear. The latter led him through into the manager's office. Before eclipsing, he paid the bill in full and left an additional sum: "For the lady to take a taxi back to her hotel." He may have been a coward but he was also scrupulously fair.


Man, there is nothing better than eating something fresh picked from your own garden. It's almost orgasmic compared to the crap you buy at the grocery store.

Nice play on the prompt this week. I enjoyed reading about these two characters meeting.

23 July 2010 at 14:14  

I'm with Elizabeth on this one and would be as lost in 'high-culture' The payoff was excellent but what a cad bailing like that! It made a mockery of his notion of civility. Really enjoyable, thank you.

24 July 2010 at 00:18  

This was fabulous, Paul. The distance between them was superbly brought out. He might seem to be a cad, but what better way than to dine and dash.
Adam B

24 July 2010 at 01:31  

Many of the pieces this week had a pair of characters that seemed to work well together. I liked that your story shows that sometimes characters just don't work together. Interesting on their own, they were just too different and parted ways.

Well done

24 July 2010 at 02:04  

I loved the awkwardness between the two, although it seemed to stem more from Simon than Elizabeth. I love your last line, recognizing he's a coward but still trying to salvage a little bit of dignity.

24 July 2010 at 02:59  

I liked the sense of a history you gave with the allusion to their correspondence...and how everything was different when they met in person. She seems lovely; he a bit of a snob. I enjoyed reading it.

24 July 2010 at 06:00  

An engaging piece. I liked the allusion to a backstory and am interested to see how this pair interacted on paper. It was a novel approach to show a meeting gone awry. I feel sorry for Elizabeth, who is simply enjoying being herself. I also feel sorry for Simon, who is too hampered by the constraints of proper society. If only to two could temper each others' extremes.

24 July 2010 at 16:01  

Oh I got a kick out of the thought of Elizabeth dressed in African finery in a fine dining restaurant in France! Loved it!

26 July 2010 at 05:34  

I really liked the progression he went through - but am gutted he ran off. If only he could've got over his embarrasment I bet they would've been great together (I'm such a romantic).

26 July 2010 at 18:48  

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5 August 2010 at 23:05  

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