The flagstone cellar of the hostel is abuzz with foreign tongues, no signal here for tweets or status updates, just conversation, chemicals and heavily debated table football. She grabs me by a fray in the waist of my jeans and demands I stand still so she can capture me. I hear a succession of noises that sound like tiny metallic butterflies and then two electric blue irises appear from behind the lens. She introduces herself as Capucine, my brain scrambles for the remnants of a GCSE in French and the resulting venture into the language of love is catastrophic.
“Bonjour,” I say, with as much nonchalance as I can strain. “Tu est un chou.”
Confusion clouds her face and as she brushes a golden strand of her hair back from her forehead, she smiles.
“You er, you ‘ave just called me a cabbage.”
I give a vague and bumbling apology for being English, silently concluding that I’m more Basil Fawlty than James Bond.
“You drink?” she asks.
I nod in affirmation and she pours two glasses of Slivovitz. We drink and she pours another. We play cards; four, five, six times I lose and drink as penalty. She drags me out into the rain to share a cigarette and I want to kiss her but a pudgy, self-entitled cat is mewing at my ankles, watching us with an almost serpentine infatuation. I grin at the thought of it sailing over the terracotta rooves of the city like a feline stinger missile.
“What are you smiling at?”
Rather than explain I lean in and kiss her, to my great surprise, she kisses back, delicately biting my bottom lip. We look at each other, a few moments pass in silence.
“Would you like to go dancing?” I ask, instantly regretting that I sound like a poor pastiche of a Fitzgerald character. But my luck holds.
“Of course! Let me just put my camera away.” She replies.
The cobbled street shimmers with renewed promise and I fancy kicking the cat in celebration, but it has slipped off to irk some other unfortunate soul. Capucine returns and we stroll hand in hand in the warm August rain, I haven’t a clue where we could go dancing but fortunately she knows a place.
We find ourselves in the toilets of a small basement club, Le Chapeau Rouge. We bend forward, practicing our vanishing act in unison, hoovering the white powder from the grey flecked marble. I glance into the grubby mirror just in time to catch my pupils explode. We drink neat rum and get close in the press of the mob on the tiny dancefloor. I’m increasingly conscious of the fact I haven’t showered in two days and I probably smell like a dead fish, the cocaine is not helping matters. She dares me to steal a beer barrel, and I consent. In truth she could ask me to club a baby seal to death and I would.
We bounce down the street laughing, it is not long before I lose the barrel on a vicious corner and it bobbles over a low wall into a canal. Thankfully its fall is broken by a passing barge and we leave post haste, giggling, staggering, high on everything.
After several wrong turns the hostel emerges at the end of a dimly lit street and we sneak into the now deserted communal area. We talk, and talk, and talk. I lie in her lap and she strokes my hair until I fall asleep.
I awake alone, the morning light is cold and unforgiving. My wallet, watch and passport are nowhere to be seen and my mouth tastes like a pharmacy. I can still smell her on my clothes. As I am pulling on my boots the cat sidles by and chooses the wrong moment to smirk.
I pull back my leg and take aim.