I was coming out of La Grande Epicerie, loaded down with Christmas shopping when a little bit of Paris got in my eye.
It must have been a speck, tiny as the Snow Queen's sliver of ice, and it hurt just as much, cutting right accross my eyeball.
I blinked a bit. It would go away. Specks always did.
But it didn't. So I held my hand over my closed eye, pressing against my eyeball. That felt better, but it probably wasn't doing anything useful.
I tried pulling my eyelid down over my eye, as a certain man had done in a similar situation. He stood very close to me, stretching my eyelid uncomfortably over my bottom lashes and holding it there so that, after a while, I began to wonder whether the discomfort was worth the erotic charge.
After he'd finished, I could see again. But I hadn't seen him for some time.
The trick had worked before but now - nothing. I tipped my head to one side and shook it so that whatever it was could fall into that little red resevoir in the inner corner of the eye which I sometimes use to check how hungover I am (the redder the more so).
I needed advice. I needed one of those know-all people who come up to you and say, It's easy. All you have to do is... And then everything's OK.
I was still standing on the pavement on the corner of the rue de Sèvres. People were milling past me. Then I realised that, in the Christmas shopping rush, NO-ONE was going to help. NO-ONE had EVEN NOTICED ME.
My eye still hurt. But I was going to have to start moving.
Maybe if I looked more pitiable? I walked slowly and unsteadily with one hand over my eye. No effect. But, wait a minute, this really did hurt. What if something really was wrong? I'm an illustrator. Illustrators don't like strange things happening to their eyes. Particularly when they have no insurance.
I went from pretending to be worried to really starting to worry; from pretending not to be able to see exactly where I was going to realising that, actually, I really couldn't. Where did hypochondria stop and real pain begin? I did a quick mental and physical check. It definitely hurt, but the one state didn't seem to inhibit the other. I could do both simultaneously.
So I sat down on the pavement for maximum effect.
A solidly built mamie stopped in front of me. She looked just like the sort of person who'd know all about everything.
You have hurt your eye? Let me look (gratifying ocular examination). But you are touching it. You shouldn't touch it. If you want the truc to come out, you should leave it alone!
Then she was gone, leaving her conflicting advice. So much for mamie knows best.
I got to the bus stop on the Boulevard Raspail with tears rolling out of one eye and down my face. I tried to take the mamie's advice. I got on, composted my ticket and stood swaying down towards Alesia, trying to make out my stop through a blur. I staggered out at the crossroads with the late-night chemist. Maybe they would be able to fix it. The pharmacie was bright with big fake jars of coloured medicin eand yellow lights bouncing off glass and white surfaces. There was a blonde in a dazzling white coat. She didn't look in my eye. "But we have something that will help."
She spent about five minutes in the back room, the came back with a largeish cardboard box about the size of a Persona machine. It was full of little plastic vials.
For contact lenses, she said. 35 Euros.
I may be a hypochondriac, but I'm also spectacularly mean.
I just want you to have a look at it and tell me what's wrong! Don't you have some cotton wool or something?
A French shrug.
I decide to go to see my friend Sarah who lives round the corner. I'm almost certain she wears contacts. She's married to a Frenchman and has a 2-year-old son, so I'm pretty sure she has cotton wool too.
When I get there, she's putting Albert to bed. She looks into my eye as he streaks naked around the apartment (Albert is her son, not her husband).
I'm a maman, so I'm used to this kind of thing. And I can tell you that if there was something still in your eye, it would be all red and puffed up by now. Whatever it is has come out and left a cut. Yes, I do have some saline solution. Try it.
The saline solution stings and doesn't seem to improve things much. But I feel better. Finally the reassurance I really needed. If Sarah says it's ok, it must be...
Her husband arrives and, after an Franglish apero of kirs and salt-and-vinegar Hula Hoops, Sarah and I go out to dinner. I wonder about French men and French women.
I don't see French women going out together for dinner like this, without men. More often I see French men alone together. Do you think French women have close female friendships like British women?.
Then late at night, with my eye still weeping, I'm catching the last metro when another mamie on the platform catches me by the arm. What does she want? I don't know whether I can stand any more advice.
Pleure pas! Ce salopard! Il ne vaut pas la peine!
Sarah is wrong! Here is an example of French female solidarity.
(Don't cry - the bastard's not worth it!)
But maybe he is.
So I call his mobile number. The man who'd taught me the eyelid trick.
What is it? I'm asleep. Who is it?
It's me. It's nothing. It's just my eye hurts. I'd just got out of La Grande-
-Did you try pulling your eyelid down over-
-Yes, but it didn't do any good... Wait a minute. Oh Sorry. You're in Japan. I'd forgotten... It must be 4am there.
Something like that.
That night, I go to sleep lying on my back with a bag of ice balanced on my face.
The next day, as Sarah predicted, I'm fine. It was a cut, not a blockage. It hadn't been an actual problem. Just the residue of one.
And he called me back.
So has it gone? What was it?
Oh, nothing, I said. Just a little bit of Paris.