The air had a rhythm to it at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Gently buoyed by the earth beneath, I watched trails of smoke dance through the air above. They stirred sensually and lazily from the ends of idle cigarettes, writhing ever skyward, some joining another tributary with a kiss, or else dispersing altogether with the wave of a hand.
With my index finger, I reached up and stirred the nearest smoke stream, watching it whirlpool outward before fading into nothingness. I scanned for the source: a boy nearby, slim and fair, with fiery red curls. He was lying on his stomach in the grass with a cigarette clinging to the corner of his mouth, like it was something he was once fond of and now just couldn’t let go.
He’d caught my interloping and stared at my hands as if they had scarred something sacred. Propped up on his elbows, he began to write in a notebook, itself reclined in the Jardin with blades of grass hugging its sides. He looked at me again, and wrote more. And then again.
Unsure of what to make of this attention, I readied for a beeline to the nearest bakery when he approached me. Language-barrier anxiety gripped my chest, but he disregarded my stiltedness, handing me the open notebook.
“Can you write me your favorite quote?”
I was oddly terrified by this proposal. I had nothing at the ready, but panicked at the pressure to deliver something exceptional, a brilliant contribution to his collection.
“Can it be — ?”
He cut me off. “Anything.”
I looked down at the book in my hands, En El Camino, the Spanish translation of Kerouac’s namesake novel. (Even now, years later, I cringe at the textbook solo female traveler stereotype I once was, and probably still am.) His eyes trained on me as I scanned the copy in a well-masked panic, lingering where I’d marked passages. His patience and sincerity were oddly calming, so I leafed on and on before finding something suitable and, in retrospect, fitting for that moment in time: “No sabía a donde ir excepto a todas partes.”