One Spring afternoon in Paris a rainstorm came out of nowhere. It had been a beautiful day up until that point, but when the rain started, it was unrelenting and we were forced to quit walking the streets, at least for a little while, so my dad and I took shelter inside a coffee shop to wait it out. I don’t remember exactly what I ordered, but it was in a much smaller cup than I had hoped and was definitely not as sweet as I would have liked, but I drank it anyway as I sat at a table by the window in the crowded coffee shop, watching the people on the street below. Once the clouds parted and the sun shone down on Paris once again I saw him, my very first mime, white painted face and all. He stood just to the side of the crowded street and did all of the usual mime work, trapped in a box, pulling a rope, and then he did something that I’d never seen before.
Is there a phrase in existence about not trusting a mime? If there isn’t there should be, because they are less innocent than their painted faces and costumes would suggest. As women passed the mime and stopped to watch him “perform” his tricks, his silent contribution of art to the world, he would snatch something out of their hands and away from them, a purse or an umbrella, never a baby thank goodness. He didn’t take off running with them as a normal thief would, but rather offered to give it back to them, for a price. What a generous guy. I’m sure the victims of this little scam would have happily handed over as many euros as they possessed to get their belongings back and avoid what happened next, but the mime wasn’t interested in money. The lonely soul that refused to talk would outstretch his arm and offer the stolen item back to its owner, then pull it back just as they attempted to grab it, and then lean his face eerily close to theirs and point to his cheek. They would have to kiss him in order to get their stuff back.
It was crazy to me, not only that this guy was blatantly stealing from people out in the open, but that nobody attempted to stop him. In fact nobody except for the victims really seemed to care, pausing to laugh and watch the hilarious antics of the local mime. I felt bad for the women, thinking that back in the United States this would have been considered assault, or at the very least some form of extortion. You can’t just steal something from someone and then demand something in return for it, and you certainly wouldn’t do that on the side of a crowded street with people gathered around taking pictures. Here I feel like those pictures would have been entered into evidence, whereas in France they probably ended up in the family photo album. When I went back to Paris a few years later I kept my eyes peeled, looking for the thief in a painted mask, but never saw him. It gave me some hope that perhaps justice was finally served, that maybe the menace isn’t walking the streets anymore, taking advantage of the innocent passerby.