ACT I, SCENE 1.
– I need an onion. Do you have one?
My neighbour from the second floor stared at my tired face as I slouched against the frame, resisting the temptation to slam the door in his face and slowly evaporate.
– Why do you need an onion at four in the morning?
He looked at me as if I were the worst jester on earth, and he had just spent a few valuable shillings on hiring my sorry ass.
– I’m not not making food with it, silly.
He had a terrible sense of humour. One would think his sultry disposition and monotonous voice would make for the perfect stand-up, but he lacked the creativity to give his words that funny edge. Pince sans rire, they say over here.
While I was away in my thoughts, he gave me some pompous lecture about how he had yet to master navigating the streets of Paris. I assured him it wasn’t that difficult with a map, but of course, he reminded me that a man who has not an onion at four in the morn’, hardly has a map either.
– Fine. I’ll get you an onion.
ACT I, SCENE 2.
There isn’t much I wouldn’t do to avoid confrontation. I exited the apartment in yesterday’s clothing, grabbing my wallet and keys on the way out.
The store was poorly lit, but the service very polite as usual.
– Bonsoir Madame!
Bonjour Mademoiselle, I thought as the half-eclipsed sun shone in my face.
– Bonsoir. I need an onion.
He commended me for being straight to the point, as if I’d considered small talk this early in the day. And your offspring how are they? No the greens, I mean? And the woman behind the counter would laugh and say something too low for me to hear.
No, I was hardly up for all that, both figuratively and literally. I was here for business.
He looked at me gravely and asked me what I needed it for, and I wasn’t quite sure. I told him I needed it so I could go to bed, and that reason seemed to make enough sense. “Don’t we all”, he sighed.
He pointed at two rows of onions, saying that he’d recommend the freshest ones of course. He sighed again.
– They all look the same. Is this lot fresher?
– Yes of course Madame, they are the newest, haven’t you heard? The perishables will no longer be used once these new ones get settled in.
I slyly said I hadn’t been reading The Onion lately, but he didn’t understand.
He only peered at me through his little bead-like eyes, waiting for a decision. I thought of telling him I was simply waiting on the new onions to settle in, but my French wasn’t up to par, and my comedic skills not much better than my employer up on floor two.
ACT 2, SCENE I
Sweat trickled down his forehead as my decision lay pending in the air. It seemed of utmost importance to him. I proceeded with caution.
I didn’t know what to do. I was used to getting the apparently perished ones, and didn’t recognise the front row’s exotic name.
– How do you pronounce it?
– Og nog.
– A nog?
I laughed. What the hell is a nog? It seemed suspicious. I declined.
– No thanks, I think I’ll take the usual oignon.
ACT 2, SCENE II
He seemed surprised, but picked up the oignon with intensity. Passionate, he exclaimed:
– Oui Madame, that is the spirit!
I didn’t understand.
– Down with le système! Screw the new rules and up it with damned elites! First they say you must do this and you must do that, and then they change it all over again. So French, Madame, so French.”
I told him that I hadn’t been on my exchange long enough to know what the hell was going on in the French political world. Shaking my hand, he told me you didn’t need to know much about politics to understand that these rule-makers were assholes.
– Well you don’t have to be a politician to know a good old onion when you see one, I said laughing.
His eyes were teary with emotion.
– Madame. That is right.
He put his foot on the fruit isle and began with violence and vibrato:
– ALLONS ENFANTS DE LA PATRIE…
I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, but I definitely thought I had heard this song before in a BBC documentary. I decided to get out quickly, fearing that it might be a protest or a war cry.
ACT II, SCENE III.
As I got back to my apartment, I could smell my neighbour’s stew being boiled. I made a futile attempt to hurry my walk up the stairs, because “just like there’s no walk to the shops without a map, there’s no stew without an onion.”
I reached his floor and saw him waiting at the door. Handing him the condiment, he noted that it was “good to be among purist friends”. It sounded a bit racist, but I was tired and smelled like a tortilla chip. I went to bed.