The Hermit Crab of Café Champs-Élysées

Steven Heiblim
Steven Heiblim

“It has a certain mystery about it,” Steven Heiblim answered cryptically, legs crossed when asked why he traveled to the city of Tangier during his younger years.

Steven was wearing head to toe mustard yellow and grey, an outfit that seemed fitting to his quirky personality. He laid his mustard yellow glasses delicately on the small round café table next to his soda water laced with a wedge lemon. As Steven told stories of his time in Japan in the Seventies, his eyes shined as bright as the flashy chandelier catching the late afternoon sun slanting into the old Café Champs-Élysées. The classical French music droned on while battling that day’s soccer match commentary coming from the flat screen television festooned to the back wall behind Steven’s bald head. I had to fight through the surrounding noises to make out Steven’s soft voice.

From what I managed to piece together, Steven had no trouble recounting anecdotes over his forty years of living abroad, mainly in Japan and Morocco. One detail that especially impressed me was a conversation that he had with his brother, who lived a normal life back home in the States with his family. “You know what, Steven—your life is stupid,” his brother said.

“How did you respond?” someone asked.

Steven smirked.  “I guess you might say my brother was the stupid one. He would never have graduated high school if I hadn’t written his final French paper.”

I could tell he thought he was the superior sibling due to his travels across the world. But I could also sense a sliver of jealousy in Steven’s voice. Steven traveled for so many years looking for a place to call home, and he never planned on returning to the United States where his extended family resided. Steven was like a hermit crab searching for his new shell to call home. The shell he finally decided on was in a city filled with friendly strangers, freedom, and folklore. That city was Tangier.

Sydney Onos is a Medical Biology major at the University of New England.

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