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The blue room

The blue room looked as if it hadn’t been slept in for months. In the dull light hanging from the blue ceiling, the windowless room, with its blue painted walls, blue bed cover and blue carpet, seemed shrouded in gloom. It was one o’clock in the morning in Paris. We had travelled, my husband and I, by train from Rome. The man at the desk at the little hotel in Montmartre had no record of our booking. But I did, and so we found ourselves in the emergency room below stairs.

What will we do for a fortnight in Paris? my husband asked. I had been to Paris before but he had not. Right then I had no answer. We would move in the morning, somewhere, anywhere but here, I promised. In the morning we woke to bells chiming. We staggered to the breakfast room. A manager appeared, offering apologies. We would immediately be transferred to the red room upstairs. The red room was as red as the blue room had been blue. We looked now directly into the source of the chiming bells, the exquisite Art Nouveau church of Saint-Jean de Montmartre.

My husband’s spirits were lifting. We went outside. On a wall next door to the little hotel the words ‘I love you’ were painted in one hundred and thirty-two different languages. ‘I love you,’ my husband said. ‘Je t’aime,’ I said. ‘Te amo,’ he said, going all Spanish on me. The words, they were in te reo too. By the metro station at the end of Rue des Abbesses, a man was playing an accordion. My husband went and sat beside him. They smiled at each other.

We decided we would stay on at the little hotel. The next day we were promoted again, to the yellow room at the top. Now we looked directly into the bell tower of the church, and the room glowed as yellow as Monet’s kitchen table, as yellow as sunflowers. We declared that we never wanted to leave. Each day we read more and more of the phrases aloud to each other, and each day the accordionist played as if we were the only people in the street.

We came home to New Zealand. Over the years we went back and forth to the little hotel. The last time I was alone and visited without staying. The phrases on the wall had gone. But there was the accordionist, grey, bent over. He played something familiar, as if he remembered. I entered Saint-Jean. I lit a candle. For memory. For hope. Light in dark times.

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