In your last days in this place, you will remember what it was like at the beginning. You will remember the basketball game and the jetlag and the new faces and the novelty of exclusively speaking a language you had to study. You will remember when kissing strangers on the cheek was strange, and you will realize that now it comes easier than shaking a hand.
In your last days in this little town, you will start to see things as you saw them in the first days. You’ll notice the way the air smells like strong red wine by the factory at the corner. You’ll watch the pétanque players chat on the riverbank. You’ll savor the petit café at the quiet bar, and you’ll start to hear the church bells again instead of letting them slip into white noise.
It’s those in-between days that you have to look out for. That’s when you start to get used to everything; you feel like things will always be this way. You live as if you will always buy your bread from a little corner bakery, as if you will always pop into the cold, dusty thrift store with lofty ceilings to buy a new lamp, or a book, or a scarf.
It’s inevitable in a way. It’s easy to stop paying attention when things are no longer new. That’s why last days are important. They remind us that this is not forever, that this is only normal for a time, that this is the way that life works and that endings can be as sweet as they are bitter.
So, love it all while you can. Love the pigeons, the rooftops, the sidewalks, the long walks to the market, the way the stars shine bright in the countryside. Love the quiet bakeries and the empty café and the gray skies. Love even the supermarkets with their red rolling baskets, the spread of fish on ice, the sticky linoleum floors and the overpriced fruits. Love even the empty streets, the feeling of desertedness, the quiet days, the loneliness. Love the gravel paths that you walk or ride almost every day, and all of those kilometers you run past rolling fields and streams of water that glint as the sun sets.
Most importantly, love the people. The ones you know and the ones you see only once, and then never again. The pilgrims with backpacks and walking sticks and shells. The old men with their little dogs on long leads. The women in hijabs with their shopping baskets and their children. The teenagers with their cigarettes and book bags and denim jackets. All of the people who smile at you when you ride past them, curled over the handlebars of that old racing bike.
The months will pass quickly. You know they will, but you don’t realize just how short seven of them can be.
You will leave when the spring skies grow plump with rain, when the paquerettes appear in bursts in the yard and in the green patches along the road. In the emptied wardrobe, you’ll leave a few paperbacks and the wool blanket you bought in the fall, at that Red Cross sale in the churchyard. You’ll take your plant to the teacher’s lounge in hopes of finding it a new home.
The same bus that brought you to this place will take you away from it. The road will pull through country hills and small stone towns. Past the full fields of sun-yellow, oil-rich colza. Past the bare fields of all those crops that have not yet begun to grow.
Jenna Griffin loves foreign music, old cookbooks, public transportation, and sunsets in new places. After graduating with degrees in writing and French, she is spending her first post-grad year as an English teaching assistant in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France.