That summer school finished for good. All I needed to do was to wait for my exam results, kick back, and look forward to sixth form in the local town. But my father had other ideas. See, he thought I’d done ok (he didn’t know for certain) and was expecting some decent grades before I started on my A-levels. He thought I needed a reward; a sort of rite of passage holiday where I stopped being a child and became a man. I didn’t refuse. He booked me and a friend on a hovercraft passage to France. We’d taken a couple of trains to Paris and checked into a small hotel near the Moulin Rouge. Two Kids. Sixteen. On our own.
It was ten o’clock at night in the Gare de l’est – the Paris station serving the eastern side of the country up to Strasbourg. We were walking with two German women we’d met in the hotel. They were taking us out for the night to some famous nightclub neither of us had ever heard of. The blonde one was wearing a skin-tight electric blue mini-dress and high heels. The red-head was wearing a dress with a longer skirt, and smaller heels. Both in their early twenties, they were on holiday. We’d spotted them at breakfast and thought they were attractive – which they were – and found out what room they were in, before putting a note under the door telling them our room number. Sitting in a Chinese restaurant afterwards, we saw them walk by and it hit us that they were much older than we were; that we had made a dreadful, sexually-charged youthful mistake. We finished the meal and ran out excitedly into the Paris rain, getting lost between Pigalle and the Sacre Coeur. We’d stood together in a doorway, lost and soaked, laughing until we cried.
When we arrived back at the hotel we found the two women had replied to our note by pushing their own under our door – “HI HI Come up to room 12 tonight at seven. XX”
When seven rolled around my friend was too scared to go up to their room, so I went on my own while he locked himself in our bathroom and built up some momentum with a furious bout of masturbation. They were ok. He appeared half an hour later. We drank beer and spoke in fractured English. Now it was ten, and we were in the vast, empty marble floored station with them.
The high ceiling and sheer size of the space clacked the stiletto sounds of the women as they walked straight across the hall towards the information boards. Around the walls a hundred homeless Parisians settling in for the night watched and whistled and leered, some clapped. Great, grey brown hoards of rags and beards and dirt and despair watched the floor show: two sixteen year old boys with long hair walking uncertainly across the glaring lights of the station hall with two young women who were turning every head in the place and knew it.
They got the information they needed. We turned and paraded back across the hall. Outside, they had a taxi waiting. Over the next hour we’d find ourselves whizzing through the backstreets of the Red Light district, stopping to buy beer, watching a man being stabbed near Blanche, and drinking in what it meant to be Men.
I failed my exams.