It was the summer of 1936. In Paris. At the Balajo.Rue de Lappe. Near the Bastille. A public dance club. Musicians with cigarettes hanging from their mouths and a half-pint of cold beer within reach. Crystal ball spinning on the ceiling, sending mauve and pink reflections around the room. Tango, waltz, paso doble.
She nearly refused his invitation. He was not very good-looking. Nor very well dressed. But looked as if he kept himself clean. Was he a good dancer? She was on the lookout for good dancers. How could you tell? She agreed to a waltz. To the accordion.
He was a good dancer. Excellent, even. He spun her around skillfully, forward waltz, backward waltz. She felt as if she was floating on air. Her elegant dress rose up in time with the whirlwind harmonies belted out by the accordionist. She ignored the men watching from the bar, beer in hand.
Her partner did not hold her any more tightly than was necessary. He did not seem intoxicated by her smooth Coty perfume, whose fragrance mingled with the smell of sweat. It was summer, it was hot in the Balajo.
The waltz was over. She asked him to dance with her again. The four-step tango. The back and forth of the paso. Again and again. Waltzes, the wild rumba. He said nothing, he led her, she was in heaven. Until the end of the evening.
She asked him to walk her back. Not to her home but to her car, parked on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. It was not a very safe area. With his calloused hand he stroked the gleaming bodywork of the Bugatti saloon. He had never been anywhere near such a luxurious car.
He shyly invited his partner of the evening to go for a drink. He had a little time before the last metro. She accepted. They sat on the terrace. The night was balmy, it was the summer of '36, the working class was starting to see favors granted.
He ordered a small coffee. She wanted a Cointreau.
He pushed his hand down into his pocket. He hastily calculated the total value of the few coins lying at the bottom. She was watching him, her eyebrows arched. He felt grotesque, perched with his backside on the edge of the chair, with his leg stretched out so that he could rummage in the depths of his pants.
He stood up suddenly.
“Excuse me, Miss…”
“Not at all,” she replied, her eyebrows arching even higher.
He called the waiter back.
“Er… Waiter! We’ll have two small coffees instead...”
Translated by Wendy Cross