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96# The ugly duckling

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

- Listen you Mowgli, these guys are the worst.


- This isn't Canada. They’ll kick your ass and lock you up. AND you'll miss your flight. Your choice.

Half my childhood friends ended up living in Paris. It is the sole reason I keep visiting that rathole. I landed in Charles-de-Gaulle, bought 10 metro tickets and headed for Sofia’s apartment. Sofia was back to her cheerful, normal self. Two of our friends from middle school joined us in the evening. The last time the fours of us were in the same room was at their wedding, 4 years before.

The lovely couple was expecting a baby. We feasted on wine and cheese and caught up on the last decade of our lives. Sofia, my friend and his wife had all become successful in their fields. He married his high school crush and both took the classic university/career/family highway. Their life was the total opposite of mine. They envied my freedom. I envied their relationship.

The next day I was meeting up with Has, another childhood friend. Has was being bullied when I took his defense, twenty-three years ago. Since then we became inseparable. As a kid, he was the smartest on the block. Has was frail, cross eyed, wore thick glasses and had horse teeth. Now he is an Instagram model. I was excited to see him. He always brings a fresh breeze of trouble.

Waiting on the sidewalk, I heard an insult and saw Has walking me toward me with open arms. He had turned on emergency lights and left his car open, blocking the one-way street and starting a contest of honks. He wore a grey jogging, a white t-shirt showing his huge arms and a sculpted beard. Before entering the car, Has waived his arm at the car behind him. He provoked the driver to come out, staring aggressively. The honking stopped. That was Has in all his splendor. He took me to his place, in the ghetto.

We spent the afternoon trying to remember the hood weirdos and what they have become. Every shenanigan triggered another one, and another one. We laughed our asses off for hours, reliving the adventures of our teenage years. It was epic. Those few hours alone were worth the trip to Paris.

Has is a year younger than me. While I struggled through high school, he cruised through classes, always doing the bare minimum. He kept that pace after high school, doing just enough to get by. Even his degree he got it on a negotiation! It saddened me to see him hustling because I knew his true potential. Yet he has never exploited it. By the end of the day, Has dropped me at the metro station. Just before I left, I preached. As always, he listened and agreed. We both knew it wouldn’t change anything.

Has had me reflecting on success. Why some of my friends thrived professionally and others did not? It wasn't intelligence or good upbringings. Most of my friends were blessed with both. All the ones who lived in Paris made good money and had successful and fulfilling careers. They had all made it, all except Has.

I had the last fantastic evening with Sofia, packed my bag and got ready for my flight. At dawn, I took the metro to the airport. During the long ride, a patrol of 5 tall men in black entered the wagon. They looked like thugs in uniforms. One man looked down on me suspiciously. I gave him my ticket. He swiped it in his terminal and grinned.

- You must pay a fine.

- What?

- That’s a city ticket, not an airport ticket. The fine is 35 euros.

- I bought these tickets at the airport 4 days ago. Here look.

I took out all my tickets and handed it to him. I had only used four out of the ten.

- Those tickets aren't allowed in this area. It's 35 euros.

- I bought them at the airport.

- It's only valid if you're going to Paris, no the other way around.

- I entered my ticket and the door opened. How the fuck am I supposed to know it’s not the right ticket? I don't live here.

- Not my problem. You pay the fine or you’re coming with us.

- You're crooks! I paid 10 tickets already. Here, add them up!

- You’re coming with us.


The guy grabbed my shoulder when I started screaming. The others quickly surrounded me. I tried to negotiate but no one cared. In my protest, I heard someone talking to the agents. Through their legs, I saw shiny black shoes and ironed pants. The man pushed the gorillas aside and handed me a hand. I looked up, it was Has! Looking sharp in a suit, smiling. He was on his way to work when he heard me yelling. Has whispered in my ear then calmed the agents down. Bitter, I resigned myself and took out my credit card.

I was bitching when Has put things into perspective. While I was embarking on an adventure in the tropics, he was starting his week at the office. The same depressing office where he did meaningless tasks, played the corporate game and pretended to be important. He hated it but that was life in Paris he said, "Metro-boulot-dodo". We hugged each other goodbye and he stepped out at La Defense, drowning in a crowd of suits.

Through the glass, I thought of what had just happened. When in trouble, it’s the same ones that come to your rescue. And they always will, whether they’re successful or not.


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