It’s not that anything was lost in translation, there wasn’t any translation to begin with. He pulled at his beard and spoke at a frenetic pace which didn’t slow even when we tried to tell him that we didn’t speak French. We wished we did, because by the way his face twisted and his hands carved the air as strings of unintelligible sentences piled out of his mouth, whatever he was trying to express seemed important.
Then “airplane.” The first english word we could pick out of his verbal slurry. I repeated it. He repeated it back. He laughed. We laughed. We’d made a connection, and even though it was only two syllables, it felt special. Airplane, he said again. Airplane, we said back, laughing. With one word we’d overcome a great divide. Then he took one fist and drove it into the other, hands opening dramatically on impact, his eyes wide: an explosion. He looked around the park. Silhouettes of people drinking in the humid summer night dotted the grassy hill opposite ours. Then another english word: terrorist. He whispered it and brought his fists together again, the explosion bigger this time, spittle flying from his lips like debris.
9/11? I said, cringing as I pieced what he was doing together. His face lit up and he laughed, slapping his fists together over and over, each explosion making us shrink further into ourselves. We’d been unwittingly laughing at and humouring what was likely a Francophone conspiracy theory, or worse, and the man was overjoyed. We stood up and he started to shout. I traced a line from my crotch to the ground, my hand exploding as it reached the grass. He nodded.