As promised, here is the translation of the piece I wrote last night.
A year ago today, it was a Saturday. Like lots of other people in their twenties, I was out partying. It was a fancy-dress party, with the theme ‘retirement’, because most of us there thought that being 21, rising 22, maybe a bit older, maybe a bit younger, made us ancient.
I’m not hugely into fancy-dress parties. In fact, I’d usually avoid them, probably choosing to stay at home with Netflix and a share bag of Munchies instead. But this time, I didn’t. I was relatively fresh back from a year on Erasmus, spending a semester in France and another in Spain. I hadn’t seen my friends from halls in what seemed like forever; we were all stuck in front of our computers, or in the library, because the January exams were fast approaching, and… okay, we weren’t studying hard at all. We were just occupied with other things, but scared I was going to lose my friends, I bought a cheap roll-neck sweater, and dragged myself along.
It was like most house parties. I was going through a ‘straight edge’ phase – I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t do drugs. I mean, I’d done that on Erasmus, and I thought that with it being the last year of my degree, I should knuckle down and do some work. That, and I was convinced I was allergic to alcohol, which I later found out was a dust mite allergy, but that’s another story.
Anyway, I got to Elspeth’s place – we’ve known each other since the first day in halls. We were even flatmates for a year afterwards, and she said it would be cool if we could all get together again. She lived in a little terraced place in Radford, a difficult part of Nottingham. Her neighbours smoke so much weed that even her house stank of it, and there were reports of a shooting every month or so. The house was tiny, but that wasn’t a bad thing. Maybe a bit small for the thirty or so of us that there were, but hey, we were students; we could celebrate anywhere.
It was a bit later on that I threw myself down on the sofa, sick of being followed around by one girl, asking me question after question about Scott (not his real name, by the way), the guy I liked at the time, telling me how she was so going back to his that night, if she could have her way, and another girl who wouldn’t stop grabbing my boobs, because ‘that’s what friends do’. I started scrolling through my tweets, and saw ‘Paris’ trending. A hostage situation. I wrote something banal, something thoughtless, something like ‘Paris, my thoughts are with you tonight’, and thought nothing more of it. I was too busy silently fuming about this girl and Scott. It wasn’t fair. But neither’s life.
Later on, once that girl had thrown up and been taken home, when the music got louder, once everyone was even more smashed, if that were even possible, I opened Twitter again. Even more updates. Clearer now. Hundreds of wounded, many dead in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. I thought all of a sudden of my friends and family there. My old flatmate, who used to get absolutely hammered with me on whisky in a tiny kitchen on cold Strasbourg weekends. A friend’s flatmate who taught me to smoke on an Andalusian beach, and who played Manu Chao on my cheap guitar on the roof of his apartment building. A cousin who I’d only met for the first time twelve months prior, British by birth but Parisian at heart, living in Alsace with his girlfriend. His two little brothers, who I’d never met; twins, one studying for a Master’s in Philosophy, the other a professional musician. A friend of mine from sixth form, teaching English at a school an hour from the centre of Paris. I was gripped with fear. Could they be among the dead? No idea. I scrabbled for my phone, wrote out some hasty messages, like ‘Just seen the news, are you safe? Get back to me please’. No response. I panicked. They must have all been dead.
My friends started coming over. Are you okay? I’ve just seen the news. You lived in France, right? Do you know anybody who died? I didn’t know. On the verge of tears, on the verge of a panic attack, I went home. My flatmate, studying the same degree as me, must have heard me come in, and messaged me. ‘You okay? Was the party shit or something?’ I told him I was scared my friends and family were dead. ‘Don’t worry.” He said. ‘It’ll all be okay.’
I don’t remember what I even did on the Sunday. Probably stayed glued to my phone. On Monday, we went back to uni, worried what was going to be said. The French History lecturer we had was going to show us the opening scene of The Day of the Jackal, but decided against it, telling us he ‘wasn’t in the mood for gunfire’. Our French oral tutor asked if we wanted to talk about it instead of doing a class on classical art. Nobody opened their mouths. A friend of mine later told me she was meant to be in Paris that weekend. On Saturday, she was going to have gone for cocktails with her friends from her year abroad, while her boyfriend went to a concert at the Bataclan. She said she was so glad they hadn’t had the money.
Just over a week later, I went to a concert myself, and saw Frank Turner two nights on the bounce at Rock City in Nottingham. I’d been looking forward to it. Frank’s concerts never let me down. I’d seen him three times previously, and each time had been cathartic and emotional and wonderful. This was no exception. At one point, he addressed the crowd, and said his friend Nick had been at the Bataclan that night, and he’d sadly lost his life. Just before the song ‘Journey of the Magi’, he said he was playing it because ‘Nick was a fucking prince to me’. There was hardly a dry eye in the room. Later on, he made one point clear; these attackers had said they were opposing satanic music and a promiscuous lifestyle, and that was a much better life to live than the ones they did. Something along those lines. I left feeling calmer. Still sad, still upset about what had happened, but more at ease.
Seven months later, my flatmate and I went to Paris. We spent an evening in the 11th, going for cocktails in a bar he’d been to before. While we were searching for a restaurant, I found myself looking around, and realised I’d seen this part of Paris before. Maybe on TV or in a film or something. Then I looked to my right, and saw the Bataclan hovering over me. We stood there, the two of us, silent. It seemed wrong to speak, to take photos. That’s when it hit me. This was an attack on a specific demographic. Young people, like us, in their twenties, thirties. That could so easily have been us, or our friends.
Today, I’m not thinking about the hate some so-called ‘friends’ are spewing on Twitter or Facebook. I’m thinking of love. People who shared hashtags so those escaping that horror could get to safety. People singing love songs in the streets. The little boy at Place de la République who told a journalist that ‘bad people aren’t very nice’. I’m thinking about how we must not change, must not be scared. Because to do that is to do what they want us to do.
We will carry on like we did before the 13th November last year. And we won’t change.