Nice is an exchange point where trains from France and Italy meet. When we got off at six in the morning, it was busy. Three hours later, it would be jammed.
When I had been released from the Army, the first place I visited was the Riveira. Palm trees, secluded beaches, beautiful women, bright air and warm water in an ambiance of riches – everything a kid fresh out of Wisconsin could dream of. I had spent a week in and around Nice, so there was a certain feeling of homecoming when we stepped off the train.
We stowed our packs in a locker, ate breakfast at the Freetime – France’s equivalent of McDonalds – and headed down Avenue Jean Medecin. Nice is a major city, with all the virtues and vices that implies. The storefronts displayed the latest haute coture but the gutters were filled with garbage. We shared the street with high fashion ladies and kids in ripped denim.
A lot had happened to us in twenty four hours, and a few hours sleep on the train was not enough to wipe it away. I felt gritty and irritable and Raven was keeping long silences. My mind was like a VCR stuck on replay; the events we had experienced kept repeating themselves in my mind as we walked. Raven on the beach, the night attack, the sight of tendons moving at the bottom of my wound, the night ride with Will, and the man with the newspaper. Had he only been an innocent traveler?
Probably, but I wished I had been awake when we passed back through Marseille.
Most of all, I remembered Raven’s statement that I didn’t know myself – implying that I was still trying to win a contest of wills with her. We had been happy on the Wahini, during the crossing, when I had known everything and she had known nothing. Once we were on land, it all started to fall apart.
Enough! Too little sleep and too much philosophizing are a bad combination. Mind, I said, shut up!
I began to just enjoy the day. Nice was never intended for deep thought, but for grasshopper enjoyment of the sun, the sea, women, and the day at hand. Perhaps Raven was made the same way, and I was trying too hard to understand what we had.
Raven bought a change of clothing while I waited on the street, people watching, and we went on down past the Place Massena. For several hours we alternated walking the beach and wandering through the streets near the Promenade des Anglais. We ate fruit and bread from an outdoor market, then went down to the beach and lay in the sun for an hour. I slept while Raven wrote her father a full account of all that had happened to her.
Peace, time, and the sun warmed some of the irritation out of us. Raven woke me from my nap with a gentle kiss on the forehead. When I opened my eyes, her lips moved on down to mine and we lay for a long time just holding each other.
She had gone topless again, but this time as a French woman would, quietly, naturally, and without the bravado that reveals uncertainty. As she sat up from our embrace, I saw her against the sea and sky, full breasted, smiling quietly, serene and at peace with herself. I took her hand. It would have been gauche to touch her intimately in so public a place. It embarrassed me to remember what we had done only yesterday. Like dogs rutting; not like love at all.
A little girl of six or seven was playing nude in the sand at the water’s edge. A boy of like age was chasing seagulls, his tiny penis bouncing as he ran. Old men and young men were lying in the sun; young women had wound down the tops of their one-piece bathing suits and sat by twos and threes with their boyfriends, talking and laughing. Bare breasted grandmothers followed their naked grandchildren from place to place. It was not a scene of Playboy titillation, but of serene beauty. more tomorrow