“What time do we leave tomorrow?”
“Well, the train is at 12:16 and we have to walk to place d’Italie to take the ligne 6 to Montparnasse. Let’s say 11 a.m. just to be on the safe side.”
“That late? Oh, and mommy, remember to put the liquids in your backpack.”
I stopped packing, puzzled, then I got it.
“It’s a train, Mark. We don’t need to show up three hours ahead, check in bags and go through security. We just get to the station and hop on with our backpacks. It’s pretty straightforward.”
“You’ve done it before?”
“Only about a million times. You can trust me on that one.”
Mark has questions this year, sometimes surprisingly insightful and sometimes really funny comments. He finds French drink a lot and should probably go to bed instead of shouting in the street at 3 a.m. (I agree). When I explained the Panthéon is where famous people are buried he asked me whether Michael Jackson was there. He found Notre-Dame looked just fine for a burned cathedral until I showed him the “before” pictures.
But there’s one Paris moment I didn’t explain or even mentioned because it made no sense to me in the first place.
It was around 5 p.m. and we were getting tired. We had made it to the Champs-Élysées, time to go back to the hotel and rest for a bit. We got on the subway at Champs-Élysées—Clémenceau. Line 1 wasn’t too busy. Mark and I were sitting side-by-side on the strapontins, the “jump seats” by the door. I started checking my phone, Mark just counted stations as usual.
I turned around when I heard something that sounded like an argument. I’m not sure why I did, I guess I’m used to paying attention to my surroundings. After all, this is usually how I managed to make it out of travelling alive.
Hearing people shouting in the subway is hardly noteworthy. I mean, we’re talking about century-old tin boxes running underground and taking over four million passengers to their destination every day. You see all kinds of people in the subway, from exhausted to high, from careful to careless, from nice to creepy.
The shouting was coming from the other door just behind me—three lanky white guys in their late teens or early twenties. Nothing special about them, they looked a bit posh actually. They were arguing or maybe teasing each other, I couldn’t tell. Lots of pushing and shoving.
Something about them made me uneasy because I wasn’t sure they were arguing for fun. I went back to my phone, then turned around again. One of the guys reach to his friend’s belt and pulled out a gun.
“Must be a toy gun,” I told myself.
I noticed other passengers also saw it. The same thought seemed to be going through their head—just three kids playing with a toy gun. Yet, like me, they weren’t sure it was a toy gun.
Those who had noticed sat suddenly straighter, eyes on the door.
I did too.
Mark was still counting stations. “Two more!”
Should we just exit at the next station?
I turned around again. The kids were now passing the gun to each other. I really wasn’t sure it was a toy gun—it seemed heavy, the way they were holding it made me doubt.
Above all, I had the gut feeling the situation was dangerous. I was shaking, I had this stomach drop sensation. I was wondering how I could protect Mark if…
The subway stopped. We got off quick.
They got off too.
A few metres further, we were stopped by the fare police—random check, no problem, I showed our subway cards. “I’m not sure what I saw,” I said, “but three guys were playing with what seemed to be a gun.”
“In the subway. They just got off. I’m pretty sure it was a toy gun but…”
“The guys over there?”
I looked. “Yes.”
This was the end of the story as far as I was concerned. Sorry, I have no idea what happened next.
But I had nightmares that night. I know what I saw and the gut feeling I had signalled fear, which isn’t something that happens often to me.