It was a beautiful afternoon at the Parc Buttes Chaumont, one of the prettiest green spots in Paris. I was lying on the grass, taking in the fresh air, chirping birds and the beautiful people lounging around. In short, it was bliss. After an hour or so of absolute laziness, I started eating a crepe I had bought in a bakery nearby.
The man had a diabolic scar under his right eye. "Salaam," he said to me from a few metres away. "Salaam," said I. He was about thirty five years old, and was apparently picnicking with his wife and a few other girls in their late teens or early twenties. Probably sisters. Or sisters in law. Or just friends. They were certainly too old to be his daughters. "Good day, isn't it?" he said, in heavily accented French.
Why was he trying to be friendly? He took out a bottle of chilled Heineken beer and offered it to me. "Never accept food or drinks from a stranger, especially if he looks suspicious," my childhood training kicked in immediately. "I don't drink alcohol," I blurted out in my barely comprehensible French. I lied. It was a very hot day, and I had just been kicking myself for not picking up a beer before entering the park.
"Ah, religion!" he smiled. Clearly he was violating one of the tenets of his religion. The atheist and the wino in me were squirming by now. The women in his life were looking at me with amused smiles. He then took out a 1.5 litre bottle of diet coke and offered that to me. "Coca?" he said. That's what the french call their coke. I pointed to wards my stomach and made a grimace. "Desole," I said in my pidgin French. Sorry. His wife started laughing. She poured out an orange drink in a plastic cup, held it out and said, "Fanta?"
It would be really rude to turn this down. I weighed the situation. It was 4 pm, and I was thirsty. My water bottle was almost empty. I was craving beer, or at least something cold. There were hundreds of people around. The man was there with his family. What was the chance of him wanting to mug me? And what would they gain from poisoning me? I accepted the Fanta with a smile, and slowly drank from the glass.
The thoughts of being drugged still lingered though. My stomach felt queasy, even though my brain tried its best to convince me that nothing was wrong. I lay on the grass for another half hour, battling my prejudices. Finally I got up, and slowly and unsteadily staggered out of the park. I felt giddy, and desperately searched for a public toilet. The first one I found was closed. I walked around in a trance till I found the second one, where I vomited out the entire contents of my stomach. Damn you, placebo effect!