My heart pounds in Paris

I while away time in the Gare St. Lazarre, moving closer to the public piano, currently played rather well by a young Asian man. I move around the station from time to time just for a change. Two lovers kissing to my right, I place my bags near the glass paneled railing, but cannot lean against the railing without getting vertigo from the drop. I can’t quite test out the engineering.

A sign atop the black upright invites auteurs and Luddites alike to sit and play. Mostly the auteurs have been tickling the ivories. Free entertainment during my three hours here, the three hours courtesy of a French rail workers strike, une grève, cancelling so many trains. I hear a scream, then an explosion just below me. Time to leave! I grab my bags and feint to run in some direction yet many awaiting passengers are coming towards me. It sounded like a small bomb or a gunshot; I am in a Parisian banlieue.

My heart is pounding. Of course I need to head to safety, but where is safety? A hip pack, glasses, and a few small items are scattered on the floor 20 feet across from me. I step instead toward the items by the edge of the railing where people are gathering. Will there be carnage below?

There is nothing, just more people gathered around a boutique two levels below in this mall portion of the train station, mostly closed this Sunday. Some SNCF workers dressed in red are half-jogging down escalators toward the space.

The story unfolds for me. The central white plexiglass panel missing from the roof of the boutique below was the entry point. The scream was from a jumper, piercing the plexiglass roof of the boutique which mimicked an explosion, two levels down. And the thump was, well, gravity. She had been standing just left of the piano.

Ten minutes later, red striped tape and gendarmes wall off the balcony where I had been listening. My head was down; I didn’t see her. I couldn’t see into the boutique from above. There was now a murmuring silence. It might take awhile for the police to get into the shop, gated by iron panels. Only the piano, the scream, the thump, the internal pounding of my heart, continue to play on repeat.

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