>

APARAJITA SEN

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 4/15/2016 |




 ‘Life is a lottery, no doubt about it’, sighed Abel, throwing the burger wrapper in the bin. He reaches for the beer bottle, feet propped up on the chair in front of him. The newsreader on the TV is talking about a couple who escaped the Tsunami in 2004 because they couldn’t agree whether they wanted to spend Christmas in Sumatra or stay on in Djakarta.

‘Just imagine, Sophie, if they had agreed to go to Sumatra, they would be dead today’.

Sophie, as usual, was fiddling with her cell phone. She looked up briefly.

‘Right, they would. Thank God couples do disagree. Not like some I know’.

‘And some never do. I know a few as well’ laughed Abel.

Sophie stuck her tongue out at him and went back to her phone.

‘Why can’t we just talk with each other once in a while, Sophia? Anything earth shattering on your phone? What are you doing, in any case?’

‘Oh, just replying to a text message from Pierre. He wanted to know if we were going to the pub tonight’.

‘What did you say’?

‘No, of course. We decided we would stay at home tonight’

‘Well, you could disagree and go out on your own. Just what we were talking about – remember?’

‘No, I am tired. It has been a long week. Let us watch Downton Abbey instead. I want to catch up’.

‘Let’s open a bottle of wine then. I’ll make room for you on the sofa’

It was Friday, 13th November, 2015 in Paris. An unusually warm November evening when terrorists opened fire in a concert hall and restaurants killing hundreds of people.

The alert came on Sophie’s phone at around 11 pm. They switched on the television immediately. Both of them were shaken to the core – the journalists on the television were talking about different places where attacks took place, including Place de la République. That was where they usually went on weekends – there were some relatively reasonably priced bars and restaurants favored mainly by students. They frantically tried to call Pierre. The call went into his voicemail each time they rang, and so ended up leaving a message, urging him to call back as soon as he received the message. They tried calling a few friends who often went out with them. The phones either kept ringing or went straight to the voice mail. In the meantime, their own phones kept ringing – family and friends enquiring whether they were safe. As the images of the butchery played in a loop on the television, simultaneous attacks in different places right in the heart of Paris, Abel and Sophie tried everything they could to get in touch with their friends – messages on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – requesting someone, anyone, to respond.

They managed to get hold of Jenny who had just come out of a cinema hall in the Latin Quarter and saw the alert on her phone too. She was almost incoherent on the phone. ‘Sophie, they were supposed to meet there tonight, at that little bar next to the Cambodian restaurant. I dropped out because I absolutely wanted to see this film. What is going on there, Sophie? What are they saying on the TV?’

Sophie tried to soothe her, though she could feel the fear inside her rising in crescendo. ‘Where are you headed now, Jen? Are you going home? All the metro stations in that area have been closed down now. I don’t know which lines are actually running. Do you want to come to our place – it’s only a short walk from the cinema hall. You can sleep on the sofa’.

‘I’ll try getting a cab or a bus. I have to be at the hospital at seven tomorrow.’

‘Be careful, Jenny. Send me a text when you get home. And if there is a problem, just come here.’


Pierre looked up from the mess on the floor. He was in a foul mood. More so because he had not managed to repair the leak in the kitchen sink. He had rushed home when he got a call from the concierge of the building saying that there was a leak in his apartment. The couple living in the flat downstairs had not been very amiable when he called in the see the damage done to their ceiling. Pierre could not deny to himself that he did suspect there was a leak – he had heard water dripping somewhere for some time now. With his typical insouciance, he had not bothered to check. He tried getting hold of a plumber, but the place being France and the time being a Friday evening, he did not manage to get hold of one, including the so called 24/7 service providers. Pierre was not gifted with things mechanical, and had spent the last couple of hours trying to stop the leak. He was a stubborn young man, and in the beginning refused to let the leak get the better of him. He took the entire plumbing to pieces and finally found the washer that had been reduced to a sliver of rubber. There was no way of getting a new washer at this time of the night. He now decided to give up and just stop using the sink till it could be repaired properly by a plumber. He also realized that he had not called any of his friends to let them know that he was stuck at home.

‘What a way to spend a Friday evening’ he sighed and looked at his watch. It was late, certainly, but maybe not too late to go out – not yet midnight. He may even find some members of the group in one of the bars around Place de la République or Rue Oberkampf. He decided to salvage something of the ruined evening and went in search of cell phone that was charging in his bedroom. Pierre blinked as he picked up the phone - there were more than 20 messages and voicemails waiting for him. Now he remembered that he had muted his phone for the client meeting that afternoon, and forgot to switch the sound on. So of course his phone had been totally silent the whole evening.

The first few voice mails left him totally confused. Each caller wanted to know if he was safe. Safe from what? The Facebook messenger on his phone was alive with messages too, all more or less in the same vein. Facebook kept asking him to declare that he was safe…

Pierre rushed to the computer and switched on the news channel. He had no television or radio. His contact with the outside world was through his phone and his computer. The ticker tape at the bottom of the screen recounted the horror story. They were showing a video taken by someone who was at Bataclan, the famous concert hall near Place de la République. People screaming, trying to get out of the hall, hanging from windows upstairs. The next set of images showed masked figures opening fire on a roadside café. Pierre started shaking as he recognized the places they were showing on TV. Here was the Cambodian restaurant, next to the bar where they had planned to meet that evening.

He quickly answered the questionnaire on Facebook declaring he was safe. He texted Abel, requesting him to let others know that he was safe and sound. His phone rang immediately.

‘Pierre, where are you’? Sophie’s voice was strained.

‘At home, Sophie. I had to repair a leak in my kitchen sink’.

‘Thank God! We have been worried sick. Why the hell didn’t you reply all this time? Bloody hell, Pierre, how can you be so irresponsible?’

‘Sorry, sorry. My phone was muted. I forgot to switch off the silent mode. Sophie, thank God for the cell phones. I was just going out to join the others.’

‘Where are the others? I have been trying to call everyone. No one is answering. Where were you supposed to meet today? Don’t tell me it was at La Bonne Bière?’

‘We didn’t decide anything, not even the time. Most of them had things to do before, and couldn’t be there much before nine at the earliest. But yes, we were supposed to meet in one of the bars in that area. Most of us wanted to go to the Brazilian bar on Rue Oberkampf. Sophie, I was all set for going there before I saw all the messages’.

‘Don’t even think of going out, Pierre. I just hope that the others didn’t make it for some reason tonight either. Who were supposed to go?’

‘Paula and Carlos, definitely, but they said they’d be late. Christopher had to attend a book launch, and wasn’t sure. Elizabeth, Maude, Jonathan – hell Sophie, what if they were there?’

‘I don’t know Pierre. I just hope that they did go to the Brazilian bar. I’ll keep trying. I can’t sleep tonight in any case’.

Nadine had bought the lottery ticket as a joke. It was a Friday the 13th draw, with big prize money. Her colleagues bought lottery tickets regularly and often won small amounts. Nadine had bought the ticket in the little brasserie where they often had lunch. ‘I’ll end up winning the jackpot, you wait and see’ she told her colleagues. ‘It will finally prove the beginner’s luck myth’. As always, she had her TV on while she prepared dinner, not paying much attention. They were talking about the freakish weather in Paris – how it was one of the warmest 13th Novembers in at least last twenty years. Jérémy and Julien, her twin sons, were coming home for dinner. Arnaud, her husband and the twin’s father, had promised to leave early and be home for pre-dinner drink with his family. It wasn’t often that all four of them could get together for a family dinner – the boys no longer lived at home – they had rented a studio nearby and often worked in the evenings earning their pocket money and helping their parents pay the rent of the studio. Nadine was proud of her boys, and though she missed them constantly, she was finally able to understand their decision to move out. The apartment they lived in, though quite spacious by Parisian standards, was a bit too small for four adults and a cat. Busy with her thoughts and everything that needed to be done in the kitchen, she hardly noticed the jingle that signaled the end of the evening news. When she glanced at the TV screen, the weather bulletin was almost coming to an end. Nadine hastily turned all the gas burners down and rushed to the bedroom to get the lottery ticket out of her handbag. ‘As if it makes difference’ she thought to herself ‘I have never ever own anything even in a raffle where there are so many prizes. Don’t know why I bother’. She yanked the ticket out of her bag and rushed to the front room. The first ball had already started spinning…

Arnaud walked into the flat at around quarter to nine and found Nadine on the settee. She looked up when he came in but didn’t say a word. There was a glazed look in her eyes. ‘Chérie, are you all right?’ he asked with concern. ‘Don’t tell me it’s your migraine again?’

Nadine shook her head. ‘No, I am fine. I need a strong drink, Arnaud. Do you have anything?’

Her husband stared at her in growing confusion. Nadine hardly ever drank anything other than wine. However, he got up and poured out a shot of whiskey for both of them. Nadine downed her drink in one gulp and sat up straight. As she extended a piece of paper towards her husband, her hands were trembling. Arnaud looked at the lottery ticket, more and more mystified.

‘Come on Nadine, what on earth is the matter with you’? He asked frowning.

‘I have got the five numbers. I have won’.

‘What!!!!! No honey, there must be a mistake.’

‘I wrote down the numbers on the telephone pad’ she answered mechanically. ‘I have checked and rechecked. Nobody won the jackpot today – that’s what they said. Maybe we’ll get a lot of money’.

‘Why are the boys not here yet? Did they say they’ll be late? It’s getting late and I am hungry’.

‘Dear God, I haven’t finished the meal yet. Will you call one of them?’ Nadine said rushing towards the kitchen, the lottery result forgotten for the moment. With her habitual expertise, she started juggling pots, stirring one and shoving another into the oven while the blender whisked the boiled vegetables into a delicious soup. She took out the cheese, tossed the salad, sliced the bread and within a few minutes the meal was almost ready. The joint of beef, now nicely roasted, rested in the warm oven. Nadine laid the table and opened the bottle of red wine, leaving it to breathe in the decanter. She took off her apron and went into the bathroom to freshen up. When she came out Arnaud was standing at the door.

‘Neither of them are answering, Nadine. Did they leave you a message? Have you checked your phone since you got back?’

Nadine shook her head and took out the cell phone from her bag. There was a text message from Julien. ‘Hi mum. We are going to be a bit late for dinner today. One of our friends is leaving France tomorrow and has invited us for a drink. Shouldn’t be too late, though. But don’t wait for us if you and Dad are hungry.’

‘Let us give them a few more minutes’ her husband said. ‘Come on, Nadine, let’s go check the lottery results on Internet. I still can’t believe that you’ve won. What if you become a really rich woman, honey? You won’t leave us and go away on a fantasy cruise or something, will you? Or buy a private jet or a fancy yacht or something similar? And then what will happen to me and the boys?’

Nadine tried to laugh but couldn’t quite pull it off. She had always wanted to travel – the heights of Machu Pichu, the torrents of Iguassu, the golden beaches in Tahiti, the splendor of New Zealand – she had spent many afternoons dreaming, a travel magazine or the National Geographic open on her knees. ‘I can’t believe it myself’, she said, and they settled down in front of the computer…

Claire got off her bike, totally confused. She took off the helmet and stared at the road she took every day to go home. Normally when she got back from the clinic after the evening shift, the road was virtually empty of traffic. Claire loved Paris at night – the only time she could actually feel the soul of the city. She didn’t mind working the evening shift. She always stopped for a coffee at the bistro opposite her house, chatting amiably with the owners for a few minutes. Today the road was totally blocked with police vans, ambulances, fire brigades and emergency medical services. Blue lights kept flashing in the distance and policemen were running all over the place, their radios chattering. A solid line of metal barriers backed up by a line of policemen blocked access to the road. A lot of people had gathered in front of the barrier, asking questions but not getting many answers. Claire pushed her bike nearer, trying to understand what was going on. Was there an accident? If so, it must be a really bad one, judging by the scene. People were talking about a terrorist attack – one middle-aged lady swore that she had heard gunfire. A lot of people were on their smart phones, trying to find out what was going on. Claire made up her mind. She just leaned her bike against the wall of a building and pushed through the crowd right up to the barrier, coming face to face with a young stern faced policeman.

‘I am a doctor. Is there anything I can do to help? Was there an accident?’

‘As you can see, we have ambulances and emergency medical services here’.

‘I can see that’ said Claire. ‘But look, I have worked in a hospital for a very long time. I know how these services work. They are paramedics mostly, not doctors. I’m sure they won’t refuse any help, if the situation is really serious’ she said firmly.
The man seemed to hesitate, and Claire seized the chance. ‘Why don’t you ask your Chief?’ she said, pulling out her ID card. The policeman glanced at her card and asked her to wait. He walked a little distance pulling the HT out of his belt. He was back in a few minutes. He accompanied Claire down the road which was in a controlled frenzy of activity. Claire could not believe what she saw and turned to the policeman. ‘Terrorist attacks’ he said quietly and moved on. Claire looked at the little restaurant and the bar, refusing to believe her own eyes. There was blood and broken glass everywhere. Several shrouded bodies lay on the pavement. Policemen and paramedics were carrying or accompanying people to the ambulances – shell shocked men and women bleeding, limping, howling or silently weeping. The radios chattered on every side. ‘They are still inside’ yelled a policeman. ‘Are we supposed to move’? There was an answering burst of chatter on his HT. ‘Be prepared to move’ he told his group and they all fell into a neat formation instantly, their rifles ready. Claire moved to the first ambulance where two young paramedics were treating a woman. She was not badly injured - a few deep cuts on the forearm and on her legs, but she was totally incoherent. She kept talking in a foreign language, and the only word Claire could make out was the name ‘Carlos’. The paramedics bandaged her wounds and moved on to the next person. Claire held the woman’s hands for a brief moment. ‘You’ll be all right’, she said, ‘do you speak French? Is there anything I can do?’

‘Find Carlos please. He was there with me. Where has he gone?’

‘I’ll try finding him. Do you have your phone?’ asked Claire

She looked around vaguely. ‘I think I left my bag in the bar. Can you get it for me?’

‘No, no one can go in there. Try to relax. I’m sure Carlos is not far away’.

More and more people were being brought to the different ambulances and fire brigade vans. A harassed looking doctor came along, asking if there were any doctors in the ambulance. Claire stepped forward and was taken to the other side of the road. The scene here was different. Seriously injured people lay on the pavement. Directly hit by bullets or by ricochet, mostly unconscious. Doctors helped put the injured on the gurneys – they were being transported into the nearest hospitals. A large number of people worked silently and in perfect harmony trying to save lives. There was a strange metallic odor hanging in the air. There was an unbearable tension among the policemen and the CRS – the riot control forces. It seemed that something was gravely wrong at Bataclan – the small concert hall that was just down the road. Claire heard the name repeatedly, though nothing more was said. She glanced at her watch – it was just ten pm. She arrived just about half an hour back, and already it seemed like eternity. Though she continued to do her duties mechanically, she was shaking inside. How can such a thing happen in the heart of Paris? She was slowly getting the picture from the scraps of comments made by the policemen and the ambulance crew. Terrorists had opened fire on the restaurants and the bars on rue du Faubourg-du-temple as well as adjoining streets – rue Bichat, rue de Charonne… Claire knew this area like the back of her hand and imagined the crowded bars and restaurants on a Friday night. She was shaken to the core, she could feel her hands trembling as she tried to save as many lives as possible. She shook her head – this was not the time to give in to shock, she told herself…
The persistent ringing of a telephone brought her back to the present with a jolt. She looked around. A young man was being brought in on a stretcher, unconscious and bleeding profusely. Claire rushed forward to check the pulse and thanked God silently. He was alive. A nurse was by his side immediately, cleaning up the wound. The phone kept ringing. Claire reached inside the jacket pocket and answered the phone. A woman’s voice screamed into her ears – ‘Where the hell are you? It’s past ten now. How long do we have to wait for you? And I have something so important to tell you both. And the food is going cold. And…’

Claire took a deep breath, not knowing how she was going to tackle this. She wished for a brief moment that she had not answered, but immediately felt ashamed. Here was presumably a mother waiting for her son to come to dinner.

‘Madame, your son can’t answer right now.’ she said as calmly as possible.

‘What? Who are you? Why can’t he talk? Where is he? Are you his friend?’

‘No, I am a doctor. Your son was injured.’

There was a choking sound. ‘Injured? How? They don’t drive a car. They were not supposed to go anywhere far! Where is Jérémy? Where is he?’

Claire told her. Told the distraught mother that her son was seriously injured; that she did not know where her other boy was. Told her about the shootings, heard her sobbing on the phone. ‘It’s the lottery ticket that brought me bad luck’ she said brokenly. ‘What will I do now?’

‘He will be transferred to the hospital soon, Madame’ Claire said. ‘I am putting the phone back in his pocket. But don’t get distraught if there is no answer. A lot of people are injured, and the hospital staff may be very busy. But they’ll let you know which hospital he is in’.
She disconnected the phone though the woman at the other end was still saying something. She clutched her hair in despair, hoping that the brother was still alive and put the phone back in the jacket. She helped the still unconscious boy into the ambulance, making sure that the oxygen mask was in place.

Her thoughts went back to the young woman she had treated earlier. Where was her friend?

Claire would not return home till the early hours of the morning, till she saw with her own eyes the butchery at Bataclan…


Elizabeth sat crouched behind the counter, hugging herself tightly, rocking back and forth. She could not stop herself though somewhere through the fog in her head something told her to stop. She looked at the girl beside her, tightly curled up in fetal position. It was the waitress who had got behind the counter in a crouched run when the gunfire started. Elizabeth was coming out of the rest rooms when she heard the first shots and the screams. She had dived behind the bar as well. She heard the sound of shattering glass, running feet and screams – shouted names, confused instructions either to run or to lie down on the floor, a voice shouting something that sounded like a slogan, running feet, the ominous thuds. And then silence. Frightening, deafening, blood curdling silence. Elizabeth wondered whether she had gone deaf from the sound of bullets and shells. And then she heard the wailing sirens in the distance. Now she could hear the sounds – someone sobbing, repeating something over and over again; someone whimpering in pain; the sound of a chair crashing to the floor; and then several vehicles screeching to a stop somewhere. Sound of running feet. Voices shouting orders to bring in the stretchers; a woman screaming in great pain. Elizabeth heard all this through a haze, unable to move. She did not want to think of them, of Paula, Carlos and Maud, sat in their favorite table in the corner. Paula and Carlos had just come in and ordered their drinks. They wanted to go and eat somewhere nearby and the quartet was in the process of deciding where to go. They were still discussing when Elizabeth had got up. ‘Make up your minds before I return. I am famished’ she had told them.

A voice was asking people to get up. ‘There is no danger anymore. Please come out. We have ambulances standing by. There are doctors and nurses to take care of you’. The voice seemed to choke at the end of the sentence. Elizabeth looked at the girl on the floor. She had not moved even a fraction since they both dived under the counter. A wave of panic almost gagged Elizabeth. Was the girl dead? She realized that in her own panic she had hardly looked at the other girl. She tried to move, but her limbs wouldn’t obey her. Her whole body seemed to have turned into jelly. She tried to call out, but no sound came out of her voice. She did not want to leave her corner that seemed like a refuge, however fragile, from the chaos just beyond. She did not want to know what had happened to her three friends. But the unmoving body just beside her was crying out silently for some action. Even in her totally muddled state, it occurred to Elizabeth that maybe the waitress had just fainted or was concussed from her desperate dive behind the counter. She should call someone to check out on the girl. But for that she had to stand up somehow if she wanted to avoid crawling over the prone body. And she had no intention of doing that. She willed her fingers to grab the rail that ran under the counter top. She dragged herself up after what seemed hours but was probably just a few seconds.

She almost fainted when she saw the room. There was blood and broken glass everywhere. People were lying on the covered terrace in strange postures. Men and women with masked faces loaded up stretchers silently. Elizabeth waved her hand wildly, and got the attention of a man coming in through the door. He was in front of the counter a moment later. Elizabeth pointed downwards, and immediately two men were on their knees beside the girl on the floor.

‘Are you hurt?’ asked the first man. ‘Can you walk?’

Elizabeth shook her head and the man came around the counter. ‘What is your name? Did you come alone?’

Elizabeth opened her mouth but once again could not speak. She was shaking like a leaf, her knuckles white from grabbing the counter. The man took a firm hold of her arms and asked her to walk to the nearest chair. ‘You have hurt your head badly. I must take a look’ he said. He walked her to the table right in front of the counter and sat her down in a chair. He shone a thin torch into her eyes, asking her to follow the movements of his finger. He asked her name again and again no sound came out of Elizabeth’s voice. She looked vacantly at the bodies outside, her mind refusing to acknowledge what she saw. She couldn’t see their table from where she sat. She wanted to get up and find out for herself, but her limbs refused to obey. She heard the man asking someone to bring a stretcher. ‘She is in deep shock and has hurt her head badly. There is nothing I can do here. Take her to the hospital immediately’. Soon the gurney was there and they picked her up like a rag doll.


Sophie had fallen into a disturbed sleep around dawn. They had spent the good part of the night checking Facebook every five minutes. There was no news of Paula, Carlos, Elizabeth or Maud. There was no response to the text messages or to the calls. A very disturbed and upset Pierre had walked over to their place and was now fast asleep on the couch. Sophie had called the number that kept flashing up on the TV screen but got very little information. Yes, there are deaths and a lot of people were seriously injured. Yes, they were trying their level best to identify each person, but it would take time. No, the names she gave did not figure in the list they had established. Sophie almost sobbed on the phone. ‘They are not answering their phones. Is there no way to get any news?’

‘Be patient, Madame’ the impersonal voice had said. ‘A lot of people just ran out, leaving their possessions behind. Maybe they don’t have their phones any more’.

That had calmed down Sophie to a certain extent. Of course, if her friends didn’t have the phones with them, they could not answer, could they? Pierre had suggested that they go out to look for their friends: ‘Let us just walk down there – it isn’t that far. The metro stations are closed, but not the roads’. Sophie and Abel thought that it would be futile. ‘Let us wait till tomorrow morning’, Abel had said. ‘And then we can check out the hospitals’. None of them dared to give voice to the fear gnawing their insides – were they even alive?

Sophie jumped up as her cell phone started vibrating under her pillow. The radium clock showed 4.30. Sophie grabbed the phone, her stomach in knots and relaxed somewhat when the caller ID flashed up. ‘Hello Carlos. Where are you? Are you all right? We are worried sick here’

A female voice answered her. ‘I am calling from Hôpital Bichat, Mademoiselle’.

‘This is my friend Carlos’s number’ gasped Sophie. ‘Is he in the hospital then? How did you get my number? Can I speak to him?’

‘He had the phone in his pocket’ said the woman. ‘I just pressed to last call button and you answered.

‘I’m afraid you can’t speak to him right now. Can you tell me how I can get in touch with his family?’
Abel and Pierre were now crowding beside her, trying to listen in. Abel put a steadying hand on Sophie’s shoulder as she started trembling. ‘Carlos is from Argentina. He doesn’t have a family here other than his girlfriend Paula, who is Argentinian as well. Why can’t I talk to Carlos? What are you not telling me? Is he dead?’

Sophie tried in vain to control the rising hysteria. She was almost screaming into the phone. Abel made a move to take the phone from her but she kept her grip on it.

‘Can you give me his full name please?’ said the woman.
‘His name is Carlos Perez. Please tell me how he is’ pleaded Sophie.

‘He is under sedative right now, mademoiselle. He has a bad injury in his thigh. We have now stopped the bleeding. The doctors need to do more tests to determine the exact nature and extent of the injury’.

‘Are you a doctor?’ asked Sophie. ‘Is his life in danger? Did he get hit by a bullet?’

‘No, I’m a nurse. I am now trying to contact the families. Is there any way you can get in touch with the family of Mr. Perez?’

‘Not unless I find Paula, his girlfriend. Her name is Paula Ramirez. They were together last night. Maybe she is there too? Would you be able to tell me?’

Sophie could hear the sound of rustling paper before the woman replied. ‘No, I don’t have that name on my list. But the injured were taken to different hospitals in Paris’.

‘When can we come and visit Carlos? Which hospitals? We need to find our friends. I think quite a few of them were in that area last night’

‘I can’t say. Please check with the hospitals. I am only trying to find the next of kin’

‘This is incredible. You can’t even give us the basic information? What kind of hospital is this?’ Sophie started screaming in the phone and then realized that she had been disconnected. She looked at the screen – there was no caller ID.

She threw the phone on the bed in a rage and started sobbing uncontrollably. The two men did not even try to console her – they were busy finding out the telephone numbers of the hospitals in Paris and scribbling them down on a piece of paper.

‘We’ll call the hospitals, Sophie. Do calm down’ Abel said tensely.

Suddenly Sophie knew what she had to do.

‘No point in calling the hospitals. We have to go there. Let us have some coffee and then we shall go. If you want to, that is’, she said acidly to the two men. ‘I am going. After all, there are only a few hospitals to visit. I can’t stand hanging around here for the phone to ring.’


They went out looking for their friends, walking through areas they knew so well, transformed by the collective shock and grief of ordinary people. Flowers and candles lined the pavements in front of the restaurants and the concert hall Bataclan. There were people everywhere although the whole country was under high alert that forbade any gathering anywhere in France. The area was still sealed off, but that did not seem to deter the Parisians, intent on showing their solidarity with the grieving families and their determination not to give in to collective hysteria and fear. The reception area of Hôpital Bichat was crowded – men women and even children with strained pinched faces waited patiently for some news of their loved ones. Abel asked Sophie and Pierre to wait – it was difficult for all three of them to plough through the crowd. Sophie and Pierre moved towards the door to allow other people to come in. Sophie found herself standing next to a middle aged couple. The woman looked stricken and clutched her partner’s hand, mumbling something under her breath. The man had his arm around her shoulders and talked to her softly. Sophie was standing right next to the couple and heard a telephone vibrate. The man pulled out his cell phone and glanced at the screen. ‘I’ll call you back’ he said softly, looking around. His eyes caught Sophie’s. ‘Can you look after my wife for a few minutes? I have to go out to make an important call. Maybe they have found Julien’ he said distractedly. Sophie looked at his wife who seemed totally oblivious of what was going on. ‘She is under shock’ said the man. ‘One of my sons is in there now but they won’t let us see him. We still don’t know where the other one is. Will you do me this favor?’

‘Of course’ said Sophie and went to stand by the woman who looked at her with empty eyes. ‘It is that cursed lottery ticket’ she said à propos nothing and went back to her mumbling – two names repeated over and over again like a mantra – Jérémy and Julien. Sophie held the woman’s hand, ice cold and trembling, hoping that the mere human contact would help her…

Abel did not appear for another twenty minutes, a grave look on his face.

‘Tell me he is alive’ Pierre burst out before Abel could say anything.

‘Yes, he is alive but still under heavy sedation. He was probably hit by a bullet last night. He needs to have a surgery but they will have to wait before his condition stabilizes. Also, someone needs to sign the consent form. I offered to sign but it seems that it is only family or next of kin who can sign it. Listen, we have to find a way to get the contact details of his family in Buenos Aires’.

‘Let us go to his apartment’ said Pierre. ‘Maybe Paula is there. Maybe she lost her phone last night’.
‘There is no need for all of us to go there’ Sophie said. ‘Don’t forget, we still have no news of either Maud or Elizabeth. Let us split up and check out the hospitals. That shouldn’t take too long. We’ll keep each other informed’.


On that fateful Saturday people lost and found family members, relatives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances in the different hospitals and morgues in Paris. The city wept silent tears for its people while thousands of ordinary citizens gathered spontaneously in different places, defying orders by the government, determined not to give in to terror that the assailants had hoped for. André and Nadine’s twins fought for their lives in two different hospitals, both seriously injured while their mother fought as well to come back to a semblance of normality. Paula got off lightly with a few bruises but was under observation by the psychiatrists who were helping the victims regain their normality. Carlos was still in the hospital awaiting surgery. It took Sophie and his friends a long time to find Elizabeth. Suffering from severe shock and contusion, she was conscious but unable to speak. She had no identification on her, and it was a miracle that her friends actually found out where she was. Elizabeth’s parents were on their way to Paris and would soon be there. It was not that simple for Carlos’ family – they won’t arrive for another couple of days. And Maud was dead – the bright, funny, vivacious Maud received a bullet in her head.

It happened on Frejya’s Day, November 13, 2015.

*
In Norse mythology, Frejya is a goddess associated with love, sex, beauty, fertility, gold, sorcery war, and death.



[APARAJITA SEN]

Comments
0 Comments

No comments:

Blogger Widgets
Powered by Blogger.