Original story in Chinese by Prof. Lee Chack-fan; retold by Raymond Lam
Abel Dubois liked taking his Lamborghini to Pierre’s Car Repairs. He would sometimes stop there, on the outskirts of Paris, before driving into his favorite nightclub district on hilly Montmartre. The service was crisp and efficient, his car always emerged as if it was brand new, and the price was reasonable.
Not that he needed to count his pennies. And if he were honest with himself it wasn’t even the quality of the service that drew him here. It was the fact that the crew all recognized him, adored him, and fought to make conversation with him every time he drove into the garage. He was one of France’s most prolific actors and producers, and he wouldn’t lie: it was nice to feel like it. Why else would someone bother working so hard, then?
There was also another, more recent reason why he liked coming here. She only started working here two months ago. And she was a true stunner. She had the deepest, most mesmeric brown eyes and marvelously long and rich hair. Her almost oblivious innocence to his mega-fame was even more intriguing. His first thought was always why she was the only technician at the repairs to not speak to him? Perhaps that was unfair; she did: but just… not the way he wanted.
Today was one of those days. Gisele was wrenching away at his busted wheel, when he peered out of his car door. She wore a very plain white t-shirt and long jeans, but that only seemed to accentuate her unconscious beauty. “Do you like movies?” he asked, doing his best to sound innocent. He was in his Armani jacket, with his Yves Saint-Laurent sunglasses, and saturated in Hugo Boss cologne. What more could she want?
“I’m actually a film fan,” said Gisele, and she gave a few examples of movies she’d recently seen, some of them Norwegian, a few American. But she was an estimably trained professional, and within less then twenty minutes she was finished with his wheel. She smiled at him awkwardly, unsure of why he was still hanging around the repair shop and hadn’t revved up the car to go.
“You’re all about customer satisfaction,” said Dubois, somewhat tastelessly. “I’d like to test out your repairs. Want to join me in inspecting my car?” She nodded politely, getting into the car with him, and off they drove, the cool Parisian wind in their faces. Zooming past old buildings and bustling cafés charging overpriced lunches to tourists, he drove up towards Montmartre, towards the main attraction of Sacré-Cœur Basilica. They got off and walked up to the summit where the basilica stood. There was a magnificent view of the City of Love from up here, yet Gisele seemed a bit fidgety.
“Something wrong?” asked Abel.
“This is a beautiful view,” admitted Gisele, brown eyes shining, “but I’m afraid I have to head off soon. I’ve got work to do and the boys might be wondering where I am.” She told him all this with no hint of discomfort or impatience. She was simply stating what she thought about the situation.
Abel didn’t know what to say. “Well… sure.” She was about to turn away when he couldn’t stand it any longer. “Don’t you recognize me?” he burst out, no longer able to keep up the pretense of humility. He was rich—very rich. There were some among his circles that saw the pinnacle of achievement and power as walking among the “common folk” unrecognized—after all, who could tell if others weren’t resentful? But Abel wasn’t like that. He liked to be seen. He enjoyed being noticed. He wanted to be acknowledged. That would never change, even if he gave up acting tomorrow and found something else to do; he’d still crave fame and prestige in some other way.
To his surprise, she met his eyes and simply said, “Of course I do. You’re Abel Dubois. You’ve been in so many movies, and some of my favorite serials are from you. I loved Summer Breeze and To Rob a Soul.”
His heart soared—at last! She actually did know him, and she liked his work too—but it also sank. Then why didn’t she ever say anything? “Then why not stay with me?” he asked, on the verge of desperation. “I just want to get to know you better.” He was almost starting look like a bit of a loser. But even then, Gisele remained composed. If she thought this was all a bit embarrassing, she wasn’t showing it.
“Because you’re my customer, Mr. Dubois. I treat all our customers the same way, because that’s only right and fair. Can you imagine how terrible it would be if, God forbid, you somehow lost all your fame one day and I treated you like trash?”
Abel hung his head. She hadn’t rebuked him, and her voice didn’t sound reproachful in the slightest. Yet he felt like an ashamed child. He knew the game was up, and he wanted to stop playing too. “I’m terrible. You’ve taught me something really important today. Let me take you back. And I’m going to tell everyone that Pierre’s has some of the best car repair services that not even money can buy.” He looked at her, dead serious. “You’re a real gem.”
“Your face here isn’t the one I would go crazy over,” said Gisele suddenly. He looked at her, surprised. She beamed. “I don’t like this face that pretends and preens. If you one day shed this mask and visit me without deceit—without a car for me to fix and without fame to back you up, then perhaps we’ll have a different story.”
They smiled at each other, before looking one last time at the city view. Today Abel hasn’t been authentic and honest enough. But perhaps, perhaps another day, when there were no masks, he’d be able to show her his true face.