I was very discouraged from my trip to Dakar. I showed everyone I met the photo but no one seemed to know who she was or where she was. After two unfruitful weeks, I returned to Paris. I kept the photo in my wallet. I’m not sure why I did that. I looked at it often. She was out there somewhere. I had to find her.
I called a friend who referred me to a very reputable private investigator and I had an appointment to see him the following afternoon. After popping into the convenience store across from his office, I hurried over. After we exchanged greetings and I sat down, I showed him the photo.
“All I know is that her name is Nata. He met her four years ago in Dakar. I went there but no one seem to know anything about her.”
“Why do you want to find her?”
“I need to know who she is and what she meant to my brother.”
“She’s very pretty. Maybe she was his paramour.”
My mouth tightened. “My brother was a God fearing man. He would never cheat on his wife.”
“Have you shown his wife the photo?”
“She would ask me questions I don’t have answers to.”
“Fair enough. Leave the photo with me. I will see what I can find out.”
“I will be in touch.”
I paid him the retainer and left. I returned to the office and busied myself. It felt strange not having the photo in my wallet anymore but the image of Nata’s face was indelibly imprinted on my mind. That evening I had dinner at Restaurant de la Tour near the Eiffel Tower with my girlfriend, Yvette. Afterwards, we went back to her place for a nightcap.
Three weeks passed and then I heard from the private investigator. He asked me to pop around to his office. Anxious, I went. I braced myself for the bad news. He hadn’t found her.
“I found her,” he announced.
After I recovered from my surprise, I asked, “Where?”
“She’s right here in Paris.”
My mouth dropped open. “She’s here?” I exclaimed. I leaned back in the chair, a dazed expression on my face. “Do you know long she has been here?”
“She has been here since September.”
“That’s a month after my brother died. What is she doing here? I wonder if she knows that he’s dead. Where can I reach her?”
He pushed an envelope towards me. “All you need to know is in there.”
I took it and put it in the pocket of my jacket. “How much do I owe you?”
He told me. I wrote out a cheque and gave it to him. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you.” We shook hands. I got to my feet and left.
When I was outside, I ripped open the envelope and looked at its contents. I glanced at my watch. It was a quarter to three. A creature of habit, she should be there now. I put the papers and photos back into the envelope and shoved it into my pocket. Heart pounding, I headed for the cafe.
Ten minutes later, I walked in and looked around the room. There she was, sitting alone by the window. The search for Nata was over. I walked right up to her. She looked up and my heart stopped. In person, she was exquisite. And her eyes…Clearing my throat, I asked, “Are you Nata?”
She looked surprised but nodded. “Yes.”
“May I join you?”
I sat down opposite her. Without saying a word, I took out the envelope and pushed it towards her.
She looked through the contents and then at me. “Where did you get all of this information from?” she asked. “Am I in trouble or something?”
“No, you’re not in any trouble,” I quickly assured her and then explained everything to her. “I needed to find out who you were and what you meant to my brother.”
“So, he was your brother. I should have known right away. I see the resemblance now. Your brother changed my life. When he came to the Serer village where I’m from and he talked to some of us about Jesus. Most Serer people hold to traditional beliefs while some have converted to Islam and others are Roman Catholic. Before your brother left, I and others who accepted Jesus were baptized. Do you believe in God?”
“I believe that He exists. Why are you here in Paris?”
“Your brother took a special interest in me. It wasn’t sexual or anything like that. He said that I was very bright and that I should think of studying abroad, like in Paris. He told me that if I decided to study in Paris or anywhere in France, he would become my sponsor and pay for my education and housing. I said that he was sorry he couldn’t put me up himself but he had his wife to consider.”
“So, your being here means that you have decided to study here?”
“Yes. I wrote to him and told him that I was applied to and was accepted to Sorbonne University. He replied and wired me money to pay for my airfare. I arrived in Paris a week before the academic year started. I emailed your brother but I never got a reply and I didn’t want to call his home because of his wife. Is he all right? Would it be possible to see him?”
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Nata but my brother passed away in August.”
She looked devastated. “How?” she asked.
“He died from heart disease.”
She brushed the tears away. “I’m so sorry to hear that. He was a good man. Very kind.”
“Yes, he was.”
“Where is he buried? I would like to visit his grave.”
I told her. “Perhaps I can take you there one afternoon,” I offered.
“Thank you. What’s your name?”
She smiled. “You were named after one of the prophets.”
“My parents were Christians.”
“Yes, they died a few years ago. And then, Daniel recently died. I’m the only one left now.”
“We’re both orphans,” she said. “I lost my parents and I never had any brothers or sisters. I was living with my grandmother. She encouraged me to leave Dakar and come here. She wanted me to have a good life.”
“So did Daniel.” And so do I. I glanced at my watch. It was time to head back to the office. “When can I see you again?” I asked.
“We can meet here again tomorrow around the same time if you like.”
I smiled. “I would like that very much.” I stood up. “It was nice meeting you, Nata.”
“It was nice meeting you too, Micah.”
Her smile took my breath away and seconds passed before I said, “Goodbye,” and left.
We met at the cafe everyday after that and one Sunday afternoon, as promised, I took her to Daniel’s graveside.