Paris, how changed you are. The quiet. The tension. Grey faces still etched with shock ten days later. My father horror-stricken by the red coat I arrived in. Too noticeable in these troubled times, he thought. I tried to joke that it’s advisable to wear bright colours during the hunting season, if you don’t want to be mistaken for a deer when you venture outside. It didn’t help much.
I took the métro. Searched my mind and didn’t find fear. Enjoyed the striking absence of the ‘Hé mademoiselle, t’es belle !’ kind of pestering. And the unusual gentleness during rush hour. A kind of shocking solidarity. Holding doors. Waiting patiently for passengers to step out before going in. And most amazingly, eye contact. As if everybody was looking for a supportive smile from a fellow human, some reassurance that we are in this mess together, instead of obstinately averting their eyes.
Tons of people out in the streets and cafés and restaurants. Even late at night in the middle of the week. The joy is subdued, but still very much alive. Thankfully, the police reinforcements are mostly hidden. Life goes on as usual, in spite of everything. Going to work. Going out. It’s just that the occasional siren seems much louder. Seeing people run, even just to catch their bus, makes you nervous.
Not convinced by the boastful phrase from our kindergarten years, ‘Même pas peur’, that is back in fashion. I noted the haunted look of that man with darting eyes as he stepped into the crowded métro, and who wouldn’t relate? Even if I insist that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, you can’t help wondering. Where will they hit next? What will I do? What happened in Paris is not worse than what Beirut or Bagdad have been going through on a daily basis for decades, but I probably won’t travel there any time soon to see for myself. All I can say is this: in Paris right now, it is hard to think. It is hard to escape the grip of a mild, day-to-day form of terror.
One evening, I happened upon the makeshift memorial on the Place de la République. Hundreds of candles, flowers and messages around the pillar. Flickering flames in the rain. The odd mourner pottering about, rearranging a posy. Grief came at me like a slap. A stranger asked if I was OK. I walked away. Nearby, an untimely madman was shouting: ‘I have the right to kill! I have the right to kill!’, but nobody batted an eyelid.
I was in Paris briefly, for a work do. It hasn't been my home for a decade. But it felt good to come back for a short visit as an observer. It felt good to hug the dear friend who heard the shooting from her apartment and taught her children how to hide under the table. It felt good to share a bit of the pain, and it felt good to leave, too. Poor Paris. It makes me angry that we have brought this violence upon ourselves, but I do feel for you.
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