• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 09

From Fiction to Memoir

The French told me twice that I smile and talk too much. "Did you take something this morning?"
"No, just coffee," I said.
Search engines were the next massive thing, so I asked beneath the colourful banner does caffeine cause cheerfulness and chatterboxes, but I was disappointed with the results.

I held up a red umbrella and blew into a red balloon. This should get them smiling and talking, I thought.

Inspired by Pascal in The Red Balloon, I walked down rue du Transvaal. Walked down the Belleville stairs. Walked up then quickly down Our Lady of the Holy Cross of Ménilmontant.

In Carlton, Fitzroy and Collingwood, someone would have stopped me and asked, Hey, what’s up? What the … but in Paris no one did.

Until …

A curious taxi driver hooted his horn and asked why.
"Why an umbrella when the sky's not crying?"
"Why a red balloon that's shrinking?"
"Surrounded by such a bright colour, why don’t you smile?"

He parked and we sat at a nearby cast iron bench. Flicked his pocket knife and put the balloon out of its misery. Snatched my umbrella and decorated a bin. “Don’t throw away your smile, though.”


From Fiction to Memoir

My new friend, stuffed his boot and set off to say hello to his Moroccan family.
“Don’t Australians take road trips?”
Alison Lester’s, Are We There Yet?  came to mind, but I said, “I used to take Ansett Australia return flight Melbourne Coolangatta—."
He raised his eyebrows and changed the subject.

A month later, we sat in an old Parisian theatre and watched The Red Balloon. He wiped his face with a hankie and we both wondered why a short film, with few dialogues evoked so much emotion and triggered so much conversation.

Just before my mother died, Qantas took me to Melbourne. Taxi Drivers took me to the hospital at 8.00 a.m. Drove me back at 8.00 p.m. Funny that. I spoke few words to those I had known for forty years, in spaces I had lived in for twenty-eight temporarily filled with grief, but taxis were brimming with words, polysyllabic sentences, beautiful accents, alleviating, affirmative adjectives. Taxi drivers understood death was near but kept me from sinking, sinking like a teenager slouching in a passenger seat.

Dedicated to taxi drivers near and far, grand conversationalists, who shared so generously their loves, likes and losses and who helped make a tough time, bearable and memorable.