seen at the centre pompidou

How beautiful life can be

This is a little story I wrote for @bibliophile-extraordinaire, a literal ray of sunshine on my cloudy days.

Enjolras picks up the wrong suitcase at the airport and discovers a sketchbook inside the one he took instead. Quickly, he falls in love with the art, and maybe a little bit with the artist too…


The flat’s door has not yet closed behind Combeferre when Enjolras is already collapsing on his bed. He just stays there, jacket and shoes still on, and decides that he won’t leave his bed for at least a week. Their time in London had been amazing, they had met a bunch of amazing people and the speech Enjolras gave last night certainly was a success but now, after some partying with newly made friends, hours and hours of waiting at the airport and a flight disturbed by some turbulences, Enjolras is just glad to be home. Finally.

 

There’s a knock at his doorframe, followed by a chuckle.

“Enjolras?”

“Hmmmm”, he grunts into his pillow.

Courfeyrac laughs again.

“Have you seen Ferre’s camera? He can’t find it right now and had the idea that it could have ended in one of our suitcases.”

With a sigh, Enjolras gets up and walks over to the corner of his bed where he has dropped his suitcase. He opens it, wondering if there’ll actually be a camera inside – and stops. Because there isn’t Combeferre’s camera inside, but that’s not the main problem.

 

There is not a single familiar item in the suitcase and suddenly, Enjolras is wide awake. He picks a dark green sweater out of the mess inside the case and looks at it in disbelief. That sure as hell isn’t his sweater. Which means that this isn’t his suitcase. Which means that his own is… he hasn’t got a clue where it is. He’s only aware of his nearly finished essay for university that he’ll have to turn in in three days, secured on an USB drive after he had borrowed the laptop of one of his newly made English friends to write it after late night discussions or between morning coffees. And now it’s gone. Together with a bunch of clothes and some of his favorite books.

Courfeyrac is looking at the green sweater Enjolras is still holding in his hands, a questioning look in his eyes. As soon as Enjolras has explained the situation to him, he suggests looking for an address or any other contact details to be able to find the suitcase’s owner; hoping that this person took Enjolras’ suitcase so they can make an exchange.

Together, they go through everything inside the suitcase; flannel shirts in different shades of black and grey, mismatched socks, a knitted purple beanie. And then, wrapped into a grey scarf, there is a notebook. Enjolras looks at it for a moment, admired the patterns of the leather the cover is made of, before he opens it.

 

“What was that?”, Courfeyrac asks.

“Sorry?”, Enjolras murmurs, not looking up from the book he’s holding carefully in his hands.

“The sound you just made.”

Now, Enjolras looks up, but instead of answering, he just holds the book up where he opened it and Courfeyrac’s eyes go wide.

“Wow.”

Yeah, that describes it pretty well, Enjolras thinks. What they’re looking at is a drawing of Paris, soft morning light embracing the city, the Eiffel tower shining like it was made of pure gold. It makes Enjolras think of cute little cafes, walks along the Seine, bird songs in spring. The drawing is beautiful, showing a calm side of Paris the city often hides between traffic noises and crowds of people, and Enjolras can’t help falling in love with his home a little bit more.

 

Carefully, he turns the page around, and then another, and the next – he sees a close up of one of Notre Dame’s magnificent windows, the Louvre’s pyramid, done with only black crayons, a streetlamp that seems vaguely familiar, a view that could be seen from the top of the Centre Pompidou, the Opera Garnier illuminated by moonlight… It’s a mosaic of Paris, interrupted by sketches of people, glimpses like one might get them while passing someone on the street. Sometimes, there’s a pair of eyes or a smile that’s especially detailed, and Enjolras realizes that this is why the artist chose to paint these people, because of these small features that made them special. These people seemed to belong to the collage of Paris in this sketchbook as well as the buildings, filling the city with life and laughter and music; a few more puzzle pieces in what makes this the most beautiful place in the world.

Enjolras is so caught up in his thoughts of Paris that when he turns another page and what he sees is clearly not the French capital, he just stares at it for a moment. Wonders. It’s not only that he doesn’t know this place, these houses, that they somehow look not Paris-like, no. The feeling of the drawing is different as well. There are more edges, different shades of dark blue instead of the light colors that had been dominant in most of the Paris drawings, a sky that seems like it would rain at any minute. Two pages later and Enjolras is sure what he’s looking at – the first one had been a busy street, filled with people whose umbrellas were the only spots of color in the otherwise grey surroundings, and the second drawing is showing a building he had visited just two days ago. The Tower Bridge. There’s London in all its varieties; famous buildings mixed with a strangely shaped tree, swans on a lake, people with extraordinary clothes, wide eyes and hungry smiles.

Enjolras turns the next page, and suddenly – nothing. There’s a blank whiteness staring back at him, the same following on the sketchbook’s remaining pages, and Enjolras can’t deny how much he would have loved to go on and on, to see these magnificent cities through a poet’s eyes just for a little longer.

 

“Well, that someone surely got a talent”, Courfeyrac murmurs and Enjolras looks at him, surprised for a second. He had been so lost in memories, feelings and dreams of the cities that he had really forgotten his friend’s present.

“Yes, they do”, Enjolras answers, the wonder the drawings caused audible in his voice.

He starts to look through the sketchbook again and caches himself at getting more and more curious about who might have transferred all these beautiful moments and glimpses onto the paper with their skilled hands. Is there really no name here..? He stops at the drawing of a spiral staircase, the surrounding walls covered in paintings of all colors imaginable. Enjolras recognizes this, it’s a metro station called Abbesses, and it’s also one of the very few things that appears on more than one of the sketches. But at the moment, this fact isn’t what got Enjolras’ attention, no. There is something at the bottom, something written in black… a signature maybe? Enjolras looks closer. It isn’t a full name, but rather a letter… a P? No, that’s not it. It’s a tiny black R and Enjolras wonders what it means. If it could be that his mysterious artist calls them self R, if there is another special meaning behind it.

 

“I’ll go there”, Enjolras suddenly explains.

“Where?”, Courfeyrac asks.

Enjolras’ finger pointing at the picture of the staircase is all the answer he gets and with a raised eyebrow, Courfeyrac wishes him farewell. They had known each other long enough that he knows better than to question his friend’s spontaneous decisions anymore.

 

When Enjolras arrives at the metro station Abbesses, he stops and looks around. There is the staircase he had seen in the mysterious R’s drawings, framed by detailed houses with small painted windows, words in different colors, fonts and languages, bright red flowers.

The sketchbook is open in his hands and he’s searching for the very spot where the artist might have stood when suddenly, something solid collides with his shoulder and Enjolras is losing the ground beyond his feet. He’s falling, falling, he can already see himself colliding with the metro station’s floor… and then, there are solid arms around him, caching him before he can fall down.

Surprised, Enjolras looks up and meets the eyes of a dark haired stranger, looking at him apologetically.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t saw you st… wait. That- That’s my sketchbook.”

The stranger’s eyes turn even wider and Enjolras feels himself getting lost in their deep deep green… Until suddenly, he realizes the meaning of the words the other man had just said.

“You painted these?”

The dark haired man nods, not meeting Enjolras’ eyes anymore.

“They are amazing!”, Enjolras exclaims.

A little smile finds its way onto the stranger’s lips and Enjolras feels himself smiling back, and they’re looking into each other’s eyes…. And then, suddenly, he becomes aware of the situation they’re in, that the stranger’s arms are still wrapped around him, holding him, and there’s something about this smile…

The dark haired man clears his throat, carefully letting go of Enjolras but still standing quite close to him.

“So, ehm, how do you happen to get my… Wait. Oh, of course, you took my suitcase, right?”

“Yeah, I did. I don’t think you might have taken mine..?”

“Depends. Have you got a preference for red hoodies and naïve authors?”

“Naïve? How do you..?”, Enjolras starts in a heated voice and only stops when the stranger puts a hand to his shoulder.

“Hey, Blondie, would you maybe like to continue that discussion, like, over a cup of coffee or something?”

 

Enjolras just looks at him, wondering if he had heard right, if the amazing artist with these deep, intelligent eyes and the breathtaking smile should have asked him out of all people to go out for a cup of coffee. While he is still caught up in this thoughts, the hand’s solid pressure at his shoulder vanishes and he looks up to find the stranger’s gaze on the floor, mumbling so he’s hard to understand.

“I’m sorry, that was stupid, I shouldn’t… I’ll just…”

“What do you mean?”

“It was stupid of me to ask you out, like I was anywhere close to your lea-“

“But I’d love to.”

“What?”

“I’d love to go out for a coffee with you.”

“Oh. Wow”, the stranger says and suddenly, there it is again, that smile that Enjolras is already helplessly charmed by.

“So, shall we?”, Enjolras asks, offering his hand.

After a second of hesitation, the dark haired man takes it, and together, they start walking towards the stairs. Towards the staircase’s end, towards the light.

“My name’s Enjolras, by the way.”

“Grantaire.”

Light playing off Marcel Duchamp’s La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (le Grand Verre), 1915-1923 (1991-1992 reproduction made under the direction of Alexina Duchamp, collection of Moderna Museet, Stockholm), as seen in the exhibition Marcel Duchamp: la peinture, même currently on view at Centre Pompidou, Paris (photographing the object was not permitted)