A Paris Encounter

It sat in the corner by itself, a silent menacing presence. It gave no clues as to its family of origin, terrifying in its brown ordinariness. It appeared lost, innocent in fact, parted from its owner. Its watchers where filled with a sense of foreboding, adrenaline pumping fear . An encounter with death hung in the air. We had only wanted to visit a church not go directly to heaven.

We where on holiday in Paris from New Zealand. Typical tourists we had boarded the wrong train and found ourselves out in the suburbs, in fact the end of the line. On advice we had trekked along subway corridors that seemed endless. Climbed up many stairs, crossed an extremely busy road and down again into the bowels of the earth.
The train that would take us to Sacre Coeur Basillica was waiting, so we climbed on board. We were followed by a young couple.. The doors slid to a close with a sense of finality and we where off. Tourist eyes glued to the scenery flashing past, so we missed nothing.

The young man tapped my shoulder., “Your case”? he said in halting English, pointing at a lone case sitting in the corner of the carriage. “Non, non, ” I said in my best French shaking my head. My heart starting thumping. Deeply concerned they leapt to their feet looking around wildly for a way to get out of the carriage. Should we press the emergency button?. We were shut in this confined space with a….. bomb?? Time passed excruciating slowly. Never taking our eyes of it for a second, as if by watching it nothing would dare to happen. Silence descended, we couldn’t converse. We no French, them not much English, together in this situation.. News flash, bomb blows up Paris Underground unfortunately two New Zealanders are among the casualties.
Keep calm….. it is only a suitcase, I tried to reassure myself, but then I remembered they evacuated whole airports, if suitcases got left unattended.
Why was it there? Who had put it there.? A terrorist attack to bring Paris to its knees.? We had no answers.

The train approached the next station and it began to slow, and finally ground to a halt. The doors opened, the young couple ran, my husband following in hot pursuit. I hesitated not sure what action I should take. I knew the train would leave the station at any moment. I could not walk away without warning people boarding, that they could be blown to smithereens.
I needed to get their attention before the train started to move. The driver was too far away, so I did the only thing I could think of and held the doors open. I managed to get the attention of a young man. I pointed at the case and said in English “No owner, no owner.” Looking and sounding desperate.
Suddenly he got the message and all hell broke loose. Yelling, arms waving. A strong young man pushed me gently aside and held the doors open. “Merci, merci,” I said trying to muster a smile. Someone run to alert the train driver. As he ran he shouted, “Get out, get out.” People started scrambling off the train and running towards the exit. The driver arrived puffing and took one look at the suitcase. “Out, out, up, up, run, run.” he shouted in a French and English mix, gesticulating wildly We all obeyed. An overwhelming sense of satisfaction and peace descended on me when we were safely above ground again and still in one piece. We had encountered a bomb and survived.

We gathered around at the top of the stairs, all looking to see what would happen next. A sign went up saying all trains would be suspended until further notice. Buses from now on, another new challenge, another story.

I half expected a journalist to appear any moment wanting to interview a lone New Zealand woman, who stopped the Paris Underground System single handed. But no one even noticed me, the heroine of the moment!!!. The next day, I scanned the headlines of the Paris Newspaper. No news of a bomb exploding or even being found on the Underground.
I am guessing our encounter with a bomb on the Paris Underground was really only a suitcase with someone’s dirty underwear in it, but I will never know. Another one of life’s unsolved mysteries.

J Carson-Barr

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