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Just One Year (Just One Day #2)

By´╝ÜGayle Forman

the character in my book.

They look at each other and shrug.

"A Chinatown?" I ask.

"In the thirteenth arrondissement," one replies.

"Where's that?"

"Left Bank."

"Would an ambulance have brought me here from there?" I ask.

"No, of course not," she answers.

"There's a smaller one in Belleville," the other clerk offers.

"It is a few kilometers from here, not far," the first clerk explains and tells me how to get to the Métro.

I put on my rucksack, and leave.

I don't get far. My rucksack feels like it's full of wet cement. When I left Holland two years ago, I carried a big pack with many more things. But then it got stolen and I never replaced it, instead making do with a smaller bag. Over time, the rucksacks kept getting smaller and smaller, because there's so little a person actually needs. These days, all I keep is a few changes of clothes, some books, some toiletries, but now even that feels like too much. When I go down the stairs into the Métro, the bag bounces with each step, and pain knifes deep into me.

"Bruised, not broken," Dr. Robinet told me before I left. I thought he was talking about my spirit, but he'd been referring to my ribs.

On the Métro platform, I pull everything out of the rucksack except for my passport, wallet, address book, and toothbrush. When the train comes, I leave the rest on the platform. I'm lighter now, but it's not any easier.

The Belleville Chinatown begins right after the Métro stop. I try to match the signs from her character in my book, but there are so many signs and the neon lettering looks nothing like those soft ink lines she wrote. I ask around for double happiness. I have no idea if I'm asking for a place, a person, a food, a state of mind. The Chinese people look frightened of me and no one answers, and I begin to wonder if maybe I'm not really speaking French, only imagining I do. Finally one of them, an old man with grizzled hands clutching an ornate cane, stares at me and then says, "You are a long way from double happiness."

I am about to ask what he means, where it is, but then I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a shop window, my eye swelling purple, the bandage on my face seeping blood. I understand he isn't talking about a place.

But then I do glimpse familiar letters. Not the double happiness character, but the SOS letters from the mysterious T-shirt I was wearing earlier at the hospital. I see it now on another T-shirt, worn by a guy my age with jagged hair and an armful of metal cuffs. Maybe he's connected to double happiness somehow.

It winds me to catch up with him, a half block away. When I tap him on the shoulder, he turns around and steps back. I point to his shirt. I'm about to ask him what it means when he asks me in French, "What happened to you?"

"Skinheads," I reply in English. It's the same word all over. I explain in French that I was wearing a T-shirt like his before.

"Ahh," he says, nodding. "The racists hate Sous ou Sur. They are very anti-fascist."

I nod, though I remember now why they beat me up, and I'm pretty certain it had little to do with my T-shirt.

"Can you help me?" I ask.

"I think you need a doctor, my friend."

I shake my head. That's not what I need.

"What do you want?" the guy asks me.

"I'm looking for a place around here with a sign like this."

"What is it?"

"Double happiness."

"What's that?"

"I'm not sure."

"What is it you're looking for?"

"Maybe a store. Restaurant. Club. I don't know, really."

"You don't know shit, do you?"

"I know that I don't know shit. That counts for something." I point to the egg on my head. "Things got scrambled."

He peers at my head. "You should have that looked at."

"I already did." I point to the bandage covering the stitches on my cheek.

"Shouldn't you be resting or something?"

"Later. After I find it. The double happiness."

"What's so important about this double happiness?"

I see her then, not just see her, but feel her, soft breath against my cheek as she whispered something to me just as I was falling asleep last night. I didn't hear what she said. I only remember I was happy. To be in that white room. "Lulu," I say.

"Oh. A girl. I'm on my way to see my girl." He pulls out his phone and texts something. "But she can wait; they always do!" He grins at me, showing off a set of defiantly crooked teeth.

He's right. They do. Even when I didn't know they would, even when I'd been gone a long time, the girls, they waited. I never cared one way or another.

We take off, walking up and down the narrow blocks, the air thick with the smell of stewed organs. I feel like I'm running to keep up with him, and the exertion sets my stomach churning again.

"You don't look so pretty, friend," he tells me right as I retch bile into the gutter. He looks vaguely alarmed. "Are you sure you don't want a doctor?"

I shake my head, wipe my mouth, my eyes.

"Okay. I think maybe I should take you to meet my girl, Toshi. She works in this area, so she might know this double happiness place."

I follow him a few blocks. I'm still trying to find the double happiness sign, but it's even harder now because I got some sick on my address book and the ink's smeared. Also, there are black spots dancing before my eyes making it hard to see where the pavement really is.

When we finally stop, I almost cry in relief. Because we've found it, the double happiness place. Everything is familiar. The steel door, the red scaffolding, the distorted portraits, even the faded name on the facade, Ganterie, after the glove factory it must have once been. This is the place.

Toshi comes to the door, a tiny black girl with tight dreadlocks, and I want to hug her for delivering me to the white room. I want to march straight to the white room and lie down next to Lulu, to have everything feel right again.

I tr