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A Stolen Apple

„We can meet there, if you want“, said Martin in his quiet voice, as I told him about my plan to go to Paris for a while. It was in the early 1990s that I met him in a small town of Tübingen in southern Germany. He told me that he had lived in Paris for a few years and had some friends to see there. „Sounds good“, I replied and promised to meet him at Notre-Dame in the following week. From a distance, on the street corner behind the restaurant on the Cité, I saw him coming, a little late as usual. When we met on the square, he looked up at the cathedral and spoke for some time, about asymmetry and its beauty. „Let’s walk“, he smiled and turned around.

Over the years, my memories of those late autumn days in Paris have faded, lost their details and became rather mixed up. I remember, though, that we spent most of the days with no particular plan, going to the museums, cafés and and other places. Of course, we saw some of the architectural highlights of the city, which he could always tell some or other story about. We also visited some cemeteries, the gravestones of the writers from previous centuries. We walked a lot, along the Seine, into the small cobbled streets of Montparnasse, and up the narrow steps to the hilltop of Montmartre. In the evening, we met his friends and listened to LPs or read poetry books.

Everyday was more or less the same. It began with croissants and café au lait, then art, the metro, the park and so on. And it always ended with friends and wine; another normal, careless day – our celebration of the privilege of youth. By the way, Martin never paid for the metro. He knew how to leap over the turnstile without being caught. He sometimes took an apple from a pavement fruit stall as he passed by, even in front of the wary eyes of the shopkeeper. It was a gesture of defiance or provocation, just like spraying graffiti on a wall.

With his black leather pants and a paperback in his pocket, he was punk and philosopher in one. Maybe he was an anarchist, but I never asked. He never complained about anything, and seemed to prefer writing down his thoughts in his small notebook rather than talking about them. He probably wanted to be a poet, I imagined, but again, I didn’t ask him because I thought it would be a private thing. In any case, he was a dreamer, idealist or optimist, whatever.

He had many friends. Well, not so many but just enough to have a place to sleep for a week or two. When someone was out of town, this friend’s apartment belonged to him. He always knew the entry code to the building and where the keys were hidden. This way, I was in many of „his“ places all over Paris, often on the top floor with wonderful views, but very small. Every one of these, though, had its own charm, that somehow very quickly made me feel safe and comfortable. It was home for one or two evenings, but remained one of those places in Paris that I still remember today.

Several months later, one early spring day back in Tübingen, Martin told me that he was moving to Australia. „Why?“, I said to myself, „it won’t suit him at all“. If he had expected some kind of reaction from me, it was in vain. After a little pause, he said in his typical quiet voice, that he had met someone there, and then, he smiled. This was the last time I saw him. I don’t know where he lives now, if he married this girl he had met, or what has become of him. Did he become a poet? Perhaps. I will probably never know, but the idea seems possible.

— February 2020

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