Paris at dawn is my favorite kind of Paris. Right in those first few precious seconds before it’s officially a new day, when the tentative sun is just daring to stick its nose above the horizon and look down at the people of this world, when the city is blinking its eyes free of the previous day’s trouble and deceit, and for a moment, all is innocent. Paris is relatively quiet at this time. I say relatively, because Paris is never really quiet, no matter the time of day. Even in the darkest shadows of night, if you listen closely, you can detect the waling of the ill, the whispers of shady deals being made behind bolted doors, the screams of feverish babies, the rustle of a purse being cut from a drunkard stumbling home. But by the completion of sunrise, the secretive sounds have faded. Even the most terrible murderer needs to sleep at some point. Now is the time of the Parisian bakers and grocers to tempt their neighbors with sweet and savory odors that waft through creaky, rotting walls to pull Paris' population out of bed. And, it’s my time. Every morning as the skies get lighter and the stars begin to fade, I creep out of whatever hovel my parents had previously found for us to sleep, and find my way to la rue foret and climb to the roof of the ABC Café. It’s a funny building, almost triangular in shape and rather crooked, with intoxicated windows that lean to the side. On the wall facing away from the street, there is an ancient, rusty, ladder worn from years of use that is somehow still strong enough the support me as I scramble up the pathway to heaven. Up here is my safe place, where I don’t have to do or think or say anything I don’t want to. My mother’s screeching yell can’t carry this far, my father stinging hands are out of reach. I am alone with the sun and the wide expanse of Paris.
On this particular morning, the sun sends fingers of purple and gray across the sky, reaching out to the infinites of the universe, to places I will only ever dream of. I sit there, just breathing in the morning air mixed with freshly baked bread scent until I hear the creak of the door as the owner begins sweeping the walkway. That would be my cue to leave. I take one last longing look at the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, then shimmy down the ladder and slip into an alleyway, back into the city center, away from peace and dreams and clear air.
My parents, the Thenardiers, are the most dishonest cheats and thieves and genuinely terrible people you will ever have the misfortune of meeting. When I was small, they used to own a inn in a small town three hours south of Paris, and life was okay, but even with all the stealing and trickery that went on there, my father was so far into debt with the wrong people we ended up here, on the streets like thousands of others. We left my baby brother and sister in the care of the people who took over our place. I only came because I’m small and quick, useful for swiping coins and food. We’re supposedly beggars, but somehow there is always the jangle of coins in my father’s boot, and my mother hasn’t gotten any skinnier in the past five years. Sometimes I wonder if my parents actually prefer this way of life and that’s why they’re here, huddled together in the room of a disgusting hotel. My mother and father dominate the only bed, a termite infested wreck pushed rudely into a far corner. As I creep inot the room, I’m shocked the flimsy thing doesn’t collapse under my mother’s massive weight. I occupied the ratty chaise near the window last night, legs tucked under me, not really sleeping. My father’s cronies, a group of about seven or eight of the most filthy, crude men I’ve ever met, who sleep on the floor often look at me with this sort of primal greed and whistle obscenely as I walk by. I’ve learned to always be one my toes because all it takes is one mistake to lose everything, your innocence, whatever money you have on you, even your life. There’s no one to protect me from it all. My parents no longer see me as any more than just another disposable asset and I’ve never had any friends that I can trust. But being alone isn’t too much of an issue. It’s simply safer, and I’m sorry but I’d sacrifice companions over safety any day.