A twenty-two year old boy is sitting at his computer in Burlington, Vermont. He’s thinking of clever quips to post about the NCAA tournament. He fancies himself a young writer, and in his mind, this means carefully crafting a Facebook post that might garner him one, two, perhaps twenty likes throughout the day.
It is March 25, 2010, and the NCAA tournament is in full swing. The boy’s favorite group of sweaty young athletes has a chance of winning it all. This particular boy recently learned that the Duke Blue Devils are named after an elite French infantry unit called the les chasseurs alpins, the alpine hunters. The unit was created in the 19th century to defend France from its Alpine border with Italy. Ten years later, that same border will be sealed off for the largest quarantine event in modern history. But this is 2010, and the words “global pandemic” don’t yet mean anything. All this boy knows is that according to Wikipedia, the chasseurs alpins have a different word for red—bleu-cérise—which signifies the color of blood on their blue uniforms. And if the boy knows this, it’s because he wants to impress someone. She lives in Paris, and this boy is in love.
When he wakes up she is still in her deepest sleep. He’s waiting for her to get online. He sits there in front of his computer, eyes starting to glaze. In the chat window a little green dot appears next to his lover’s name. Bonjour mon ange, she says, and these words mean everything, even more than the Duke Blue Devils chances at reaching the national championship game. The truth is up until now, basketball has been this boy’s religion. Up until eighteen years old he was convinced he would play in the NBA, and as a college student, he’s still convinced March Madness is an essential component of his character. He tells his Parisian girlfriend about the chasseurs alpins, hoping to deepen their connection. He tells her that the only time they use the word rouge is when describing the lips of a lover.
A new chat window pops up, this time from a friend who lives just down the street: “What are you going to do when you move to Paris? I’m intrigued and jealous.” And all of a sudden the boy realizes that in two months he will be leaving this country for good. All of a sudden the tangible reality of life becomes much more important than a game.
He tells his lover she can call in ten minutes and tells his friend that he has no job prospects in France. He only has two months of savings, but he’s in love, and for him this is enough. And only when he says this does he realize he’s growing up, because for the first time in his life, after a two-hour phone call, he realizes that for the first time in his life, he forgot to watch a Duke game.
A decade later, almost to the day, the NCAA tournament is cancelled in response to one of the largest pandemics in human history. Reporters on the sideline suggest, “Chuck, I’m here to tell you, the kids still want to play.” Everyone has an opinion about what to do, how to be ready. The masses take to Facebook with their Google-searched opinions. The scientists keep saying the same things: don’t panic, stay home, and wash your hands.
As this grown man and the rest of the adult world spiral towards panic from the safety of ergonomic desk chairs, watching through touch screens, primed with Netflix specials, opining and preaching half-truths with the absolute certainty of quarantined apes, somewhere in the world two people are falling in love. And though travel bans and anxious family members and close friends both near and far away are telling them to stay put, to not even think about risking it in this day and age, the boy is becoming a man and the girl is becoming a woman and all of us are becoming our true selves in the face of a global pandemic, choosing to forego what used to matter in favor of love.
SAMUÉL LOPEZ-BARRANTES is a musician and writer in Paris. His first book, Slim and The Beast (2015), was the flagship novel for Inkshares, America’s first crowd-funded publishing house. Samuél holds an M.A. in European Society and an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He teaches literature, cinema and creative writing at the Sorbonne, and is a literary and historical tour guide. Samuél is also a member of the American folk-rock trio Slim & The Beast, whose debut EP has already caught the attention of Rolling Stone France. Find out more at www. patreon.com/slbfiction