Flight of the Bumble Bee

Merde.  What time is it?  Where’s the clock? 

I over-slept. I know it. Across the room, Katy’s peaceful snoozing is apparent through prolonged, deep, rhythmic breaths.  She doesn’t have class this morning.  I enjoy class, but admittedly I’m slightly envious she’s able to sleep longer.  I have to be at the Sorbonne for a 9:00am exam on Le Subjonctif. Ugh. I forgot about that. I should have a couple hours to study beforehand. No sweat. I’ll go to a nearby café and review there.

What time is it again? Oof. Why does my head hurt so much? Ouch.

In an altruistic attempt not to disturb Katy, I smother a groan and roll over. A hardened nest of tangled hair is glued to my left cheek with what I can only hope is remnants of old hairspray.  The iron log that seems to have replaced my arm attempts a haphazard stretch toward the nightstand to blindly feel around for the alarm clock.

I have plenty of time to get ready. Sure.

Cutting through the darkness, my hand flops around pens and bits of crumpled papers.  The area is a pile of chaos.  I must have dumped my bag at some point last night.  A receipt sticks to my sweaty palm. Still, no alarm clock.  I’m irritated.  I need to get going.  Peeling the receipt from my hand, I notice a series of numbers scribbled in pairs.

A phone number!  A French phone number. No. It couldn’t be. I got a number? I got a number! An actual phone number of an actual male who apparently had some form of actual interest.  Someone thought I was worthy of their number.  Here… In France. Me!

Encountering a tap-dancing unicorn who could solve quantum theory seems likelier.  A dopey grimace spans across my face releasing the faintest sting from a pair of chapped lips.

WOW, Jess.  Look at you, you vixen. This must be from that Canadian bar over near Odéon. Shoot. Or was it over at the Scottish bar? It must have been that group of guys.  Is that a seven?  Or is that a one? What does ‘R’ mean? Who is ‘R’?

Nothing makes sense, and I have no recollection of meeting R, whoever that is. A summer night in Paris traipsing around until sunrise, all while partaking in both wine and tequila, fogs the memory.  Anyways, it doesn’t matter.  I’m not brave enough to try the number, and I need to save the minutes on my phone card for calls home anyways.

Briefly morning the lost romance, a faint blinking light from the floor catches my attention. The alarm clock had somehow found its way under the bed. Relieved, I grab it.  The time is 8:17am.  This is bad.

NON! Merde!

Realizing I have less than an hour to shower and miraculously transport myself across Paris in time for the exam, I leap from the rickety twin bed and sprint to the bathroom.  I need to act fast. There’s no time.  I can’t miss this exam- one of only few for this class, which I need to pass for graduation back in the United States. The exam that I am unprepared to take. The exam I am now certain that I will fail.  From the depths of a gut filled with a mishmash of old booze and sheer anxiety, I start to dry heave my way to the bathroom.

Shower later. Yes.  That will save me some time. Study on the Métro . Yes. OK. I got this.

Staring back at me in the tiny bathroom mirror is a twisted, disheveled reflection of myself- the dingy leftovers of last night’s escapades. I’m screwed.  The situation is worse than I thought.  My eyes are draped in blackened smears of crusty mascara. Both eyelids are sticking together. A tightly stressed smile reveals rows of teeth stained with what appears to be the vineyard I must have consumed.  I’m going to have to swish my mouth with pure bleach to remove the deep shade of purple.  After a hasty swab with a warm facecloth and a toothbrush graze, I grab the first clothes I find wrinkled in a pile on the floor, change, and dash from my apartment to Glacière to catch the Métro .  My unsteady body clumsily gallops and stumbles across the cobblestone courtyard.  No time for tripping today.

Everything is slow in Paris this morning.  In what feels like a nightmare, I frantically push past the locals casually meandering along the sidewalks of Rue de la Glacière without any concern for timeliness. They stop.  Look at storefronts.  They walk a few steps.  Stop.  Pet the neighborhood dog.  Walk again. Stop, and repeat.  I’m annoyed. They are equally as peeved with me for huffing through their peaceful stroll.

Geez.  Do these people even work?  

Running up the several flights of stairs to Glacière, my lungs are on the verge of collapsing and woosh uncontrollably after the last step.  The summer air is dense with humidity, and a monsoon of body sweat starts to form blotches across my outfit.  Approaching the platform, a large group of people await at the edge, and I am somewhat relieved. If a group had time to accumulate that means the next train should arrive soon. The comfort is fleeting once I check the time.


The ride from Glacière to the inconvenient layover at Raspail afforded my brain enough time to concentrate on all the devastating scenarios that would occur as a result of being late and failing this exam.

I won’t graduate college.  If I don’t graduate college, I won’t get a job.  If I don’t get a job, I won’t be able to pay my piles of school loans.  If I can’t pay my school loans, I’ll never have good credit. If I don’t have good credit, I won’t be able to afford a house. If I can’t have a house, I’ll have to live in a box on the street.  I’ll have to live a life of a street performer.  Do I have any talent?  Sock puppets.  Yes.  If I fail this exam, I’m going to be a professional sock puppeteer.

With each outrageous thought I shoot a nervous glance at my watch and vigorously shake my right leg to the beat of thinly contained hyperventilation.  The train finally arrives at Raspail.  In normal Métro life, I’d politely shimmy past the crowd and softly request, “Pardon, Madame. Pardon, Monsieur.”  This morning, no such etiquette exists.  I am a frazzled missile, blasting through the moseying masses and trying to ignore the scattered ‘putains’ within the crowd- a response to my bold disregard for etiquette.

Trying to ignore the swearing, a faint melody sounds in the distance.  Along with the sweet aromatics of train exhaust and urine, Métro stations are also accustomed to music performances.  Some excellent.  Some mediocre.  Some terrible.  The performers always seem happy to be the backdrop of Parisian commuting.  The sound at Raspail is an unmistakable jolly accordion, which irritates me more as I continue to sprint to from one tunnel to another.  I’m certainly not feeling as upbeat this morning.

The cheerful tune amplifies with each step until I reach the final set of stairs leading to the platform. I’m exasperated from the sprint and in desperate need of a seat, some water, a tranquilizer, and a time machine. I don’t bother to check the time.  I don’t want to know.  I scramble down the stairs to a roaring fit of laughter, which reverberates throughout the station tunnel. It’s the musician, an accordion player, and apparently I’ve become his jester.  I halt mid-descent at this realization.

The accordion player and I lock stares.  Mine, embarrassment.  His, humor. Stooped against the cracked black and white checkered metro wall tile, the rotund musician ruffles a scrappy, bristled beard with each booming laugh, one that jiggles a belly barely restraining itself within a greasy, ripped yellow tee shirt.  Furthering my mortification, he resumes playing, but switches to the orchestral classic, Flight of the Bumblebees.

Allez!  Allez! Vite, Madamoiselle! Vite!” He booms.

Unwilling to be ridiculed further, I scurry onto the train.

Why was he teasing me?  What did I do?  Is it because I look like a sloppy American?

Though only lasting a minute or two, I obsess over the incident until I reach my stop.  I hustle to class and arrive only to find my classmates already engaged in the exam.  As suspected, I’m very late.

Do I go in?  Do I leave? Will Madame let me start the exam late?

Madame sits stiffly at the head of the ancient classroom, rapping a set of spindly fingers against her desk, seemingly entertained by each delicate tap of her pointed, manicured nails.  Bored, she begins to swish her tongue around the inside wall of her cheek, which forces her face into a puckered expression.  I can’t read her mood.  Some days, she is pleasant and chatty.  Other days, she’ll skewer us all with a simple glance. Unsure of today’s mood, I nervously shift my weight slightly from left foot to right. The movement stirs a slight creak from the rickety doorway floorboards beneath my feet.  The noise instantly diverts Madame’s attention.  The glare from my nightmares now burns toward me.


Madame, désolé, mais Je suis en retard ce matin.  Je…” I begin to stutter.

Oui, oui.” Rolling her eyes, she sighs and waves the exam booklet at me in dismissal, “Pas grave.  Voila l’examen. Asseyez.”

Bewildered, I cautiously take the exam from her and find my way to a vacant desk in the corner.  Uninterested in further conversation regarding the matter, Madame returns to her finger-tapping.

No big deal?

I am twenty minutes late for a major exam, and it doesn’t matter.  She doesn’t care.  I ran and hurried, nearly causing myself an aneurysm from physical and mental stress, and she isn’t remotely concerned.  Processing this outcome, I try to focus on the exam, but the echoes of a jolly accordion replay in my thoughts.  Everything starts to make sense- in the French way at least.  The neighborhood strollers.  The leisurely commuters.  The indifferent instructor. At that moment, I promise myself never to panic over another lost minute again. Pas grave.

 À la prochaine.

  1. Dennis

    October 11, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    I have to ask, how you did on the exam.
    I also feel the need to apologize, I laughed so hard I spewed my drink.
    I can understand why he played Flight of the Bumblebees and why it was appropos

    1. Jessica

      October 11, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      Good question! I did not pursue a life of sock puppets, so I did indeed (barely) pass. 🙂

      Oh, no need to apologize. I always laugh at this memory, especially when I’m at the train station, and I see everyone running to their train!

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