The alerts started pouring in: Explosion at French Stadium turned into “Explosions at Stade de France”, “Shootout in 10th Arrondissement”, and they didn’t get any better. Suddenly, the information of what was happening painted a perfectly clear image: they were coming down Boulevard Voltaire.
Suddenly, I wasn’t tired. The texts and messages started coming in and out: please be safe, are you ok?, don’t leave your house, is your mom/sister/family/friend ok?, yes, I’m ok, have you heard from X?
There was a moment of real panic where my partner could not reach his mother. He called and called and called. His mother has a very active social life, and enjoys going to restaurants and cafés. Where was she that night?
Eventually, he was able to contact her. She was fine. We stared at each other. What the hell was going on!?
I started thinking about work. I can see Stade de France from my office. The only thing that separates me from it is a street. I walk in front of it every morning and every evening, I go to the McDonald’s next to it, I know people who work there (one of them is expecting a baby soon). How could they do this? What could possibly drive someone to this?
Oberkampf, I was supposed to have been there. I was supposed to have been on Boulevard Voltaire having a drink at a terrace. Most likely nothing would have happened to us, but what if it did? What is the difference between the people who were gunned down and me? Nothing. There are absolutely no differences. That entire area is not for people with money, au contraire, it caters to middle class people, with sensible prices and no-frills decorations. It’s such a lively place at night, with people spilling into the sidewalks having pints, a glass of wine, munching on chips, smoking cigarettes, having heated discussions, making out in the corner…
The apartment turned into a sort of bunker: the shutters were drawn, the door was locked with all locks available.
Porte de Montreuil is not next to Voltaire, but it does have a large immigrant population which sadly has not assimilated (I blame the government for this, but that’s another subject). Suddenly, Porte de Montreuil did not feel so safe. My neighbors could be targeted by angry people, all pigeon-holed in the mentality that “they are all the same”.
Another thing you need to know about Porte de Montreuil is that it is quite close to Vincennes, where there is a large army base. It is not uncommon to run into fully-armed soldiers on the métro coming back from a day of training on the other side of the city. Even they use public transportation!
But that night, all those curious memories of men in uniform riding with regular citizens evaporated. Helicopters were flying overhead. They were taking off. A manhunt was underway, hostages were being held, people wre being butchered while I stared at my computer screen in disbelief.
News poured in without stopping. I didn’t know how to feel: sad, angry, scared- I was fine, nothing had happened to me, but I chose Paris! I chose this city! Even with all its chaos and madness, this is the place I want to live! My life is here, my partner is here, my work is here, my heart is here.
Feeling weary, I finally gave in to sleep at around 4am. The hostage situation was over, the death count began, and like a small child, I sought the arms of my partner for protection.
Saturday would definitely be a day of recovery.