It was at 21:32 one year ago on 13 November when a dozen gunshots were fired into café ‘La Bonne Biére’ and the restaurant opposite on Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi where I was living for my first semester of my year abroad. Five people were killed there, 130 that night in Paris.
I will never forget the haunting sound of a dozen gunshots and then the sudden deathly silence and emptiness of the street I’d come to call home.
I will never forget uttering to my friend over and over again, “There’s a body in the street, there’s a body in the street.”
I will never forget the fear which pervaded the city for weeks afterwards. Just going to the corner shop felt like a death-wish. Lecture theatres, crowds, the métro… all nightmares. Any loud noise and you’d jump.
I feel so lucky that none of my friends, on the way to my apartment for drinks at the time, were harmed and that my flatmate in a bar opposite the targeted one returned unscathed. It could have been so much worse.
Two days later it looked like it was happening again. Whilst looking out of the window of my flat alone – still too afraid to go out – a false-alarm meant that hundreds of people ran screaming down my street, clambering and pushing over one another to get inside. That was one of the scariest parts of the ordeal.
Place de la Republique was always full of life; people demonstrated here weekly for global issues they believed in and it’s the cruelest twist of fate that such brutality yet momentarily tarnished this positive arena for solidarity and freedom of expression. In this politically turbulent climate and after the recent presidential elections, now more than ever, we need places like that.
Realising what I’d taken for granted living in a relatively secure, unified and non-violent country all my life was an eye-opener. People all over the world in less stable countries like Syria, Iraq and more recently Libya experience that fear 24/7 with the constant threat of terrorism and I wish there was more we could do.
My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims of the attacks.
Photos: Lydia Siani