Sunrise, shower, croissant, metro. The day had started ordinarily enough. We were at République waiting for our connecting train when I sensed it. Across the rail, a woman with a dog stood waiting to board. The dog’s head was fixed in the direction of the train, low growls coming from its tightened throat. A shiver ran between my shoulders. But I shook off the feeling and tried to focus on the day ahead – we were going to Versailles, after all, the most anticipated adventure yet.
The screech of metal alerted us to the train’s arrival. We climbed aboard and took a seat near the back. Jacob nodded off while I figured out which stop would take us out of the city. The train was crowded, with people standing in between the seats. A child sat with his mother in the backmost seat of the train, peppering her with silly, innocent questions in French. There goes the screech again. When I looked up from my map, the familiar lights of the metro station were nowhere in sight. Instead, we were surrounded by the dark concrete walls of the underground tunnel. The train had stopped moving completely at this point, and as I looked up to the digital stop indicator, the device flickered then shut off.
A voice came over the speaker – the conductor. He announced that the train was stopping because a person had been seen in the tunnel. It was hard to discern every word of his French over the cries of nearby children and my own thoughts. Jacob was well awake by this time and listened with growing concern as I explained what I had just heard.
“A person in the lane?” Jacob repeated. “I don’t like this. This doesn’t feel right at all.”
I took a quick survey of the passengers. No one seemed to be paying much mind to the interruption, at least not at first. A second ping of the intercom signaled another update – this time I caught even less of the hurried explanation. But the words I did catch were enough: Suspect, police, guard the exits. He kept saying that last one, to watch the exits. Did I really trust these passengers, people I hadn’t exchanged a word with, to keep us safe from whoever was inside the railway?
That’s when I heard the singing. It began at the front of the train, growing nearer and nearer to the back where we were held. An unseen man sang an eerie hymn, steeped in sorrow and retribution. He was halfway through the carts now. No one was moving. Jacob turned his eyes toward me, barely daring to whisper, Is that French? I gave my head the smallest of shakes. No, there was no French in that voice. Its syllables were chillingly similar to Arabic.
My blood was cold. My mind frozen. We were close to a door, but I had no idea how we would escape. The mother and her child sat quietly in the back, marking the undeniable end of the singer’s path. Soon, he would be in front of us. With a hard swallow, I turned my eyes toward the front of the train, bracing myself for what could be the last breath I ever took.
The infamous black terrorist’s robe was burned so sharply in my mind, it took a moment for me to realize what this man really was. As I took in his Vietnamese visage, his simple poor man’s clothes, and his small box soliciting a euro for his song, my body exhaled with relief. This wasn’t an assailant, it was one of Paris’s many subway performers using the stalled train as a chance to sing for his supper. Jacob and I burst into a fit of nervous laughter once we realized we both were under the same impression of impending doom. Shortly thereafter, a final announcement came through declaring the clearing of the lane and thanking us for our patience. The train began to move again, and we quickly exited at the next stop to spend the rest of the day basking in the grandeur of Louis XIV’s iconic residence.
The gardens were laced with manicured hedges, ancient stone paths and a citrus haze from the potted lemon trees on the lower level. Though the anxiety of the morning was still with us, I couldn’t think of a better way to forget than walking through the serene halls of history in this most magnificent ode to the glory of France.
Stay tuned for Day 6 of Peaks of Paris…