Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

B is for Bomb.

An incident on the RER B this morning made me stop and consider the times in which we live. I take the RER B to Gare du Nord, before I switch onto the E to get to the lycée where I am teaching.  As I boarded the train, I bumped into a woman wearing a burqa and apologized. She paid me no heed. In her hand, she clutched a large green book, a copy of the Qur’an. She was African, torn shoes enclosed her feet and she mumbled in French to another African woman on the train; neither the woman nor I understood what she asked.

A ping sounded – the train was about to leave the station.  The woman stood by the door, and right as it began to close, jumped out, then jumped back in – but not all the way.  “Je ne peux pas, le livre — I can’t, the book –” She stood in between the sliding doors as they pressed into her shoulders until a man helped her back onto the train.  She still held the Qur’an. The train continued on.

Next stop, Saint-Michel/Notre Dame. She steps off the train, back on the train, then back off. And as the doors begin to close, she throws the book into the cabin. The passengers stare in silence as it slides across the floor, its yellowed pages fluttering open. Then the hushed whispers begin, “Why did she do that? What is it – just a book?” The passengers shuffle in their seats, prod the book closed.  Finally, a man picks it up, “Ah, c’est qu’un bouquin – It’s only a book.”

Next stop, Chatalet-les-Halles.  He held it gingerly by the spine, fingers grasping it through a folded napkin, and exited the train.

RER B at Chatalet-les-Halles, image not mine.

RER B at Chatalet-les-Halles, image not mine.

I am struck by how easily we jumped to the fear of being bombed. It wasn’t said, not any louder than a breathed whisper, but the fear lingered like Elliot’s cat-like fog, sneaky and persistent and ambiguous. As we all stared down at the book’s green cover, I felt an eerie sense of calm.

Then, tout de suite, we had left the dredges of the Paris underground and were out into a crisp blue sky. The normal worries of the day began their creep to my consciousness, and curiosity about the incident gave way to anxieties about my first day at the lycée.


Filed under: All things French, Around the world, , , , , , ,

5 Responses

  1. Tina says:

    Why was the woman jumping in and out of the train at the stops? Did she not know where to get off? Did she mean to drop her book or was she afraid of something?

    • amritaraja says:

      I’m not sure! That was the strange part. At first I thought she was one of those people who boards the metro to beg, but then her behavior doesn’t match that at all. I was (and still am) thoroughly confused as to why she did what she did…but I believe she did mean to drop the book – she threw it into the train quite deliberately, which, I believe, is part of what scared the passengers.

  2. that’s kind of an awkward moment… haha. as open minded as i hope to consider myself, i have and certainly would have made the same assumption. we expect people to be rational actors. as frustrating as someone littering, say- a gum wrapper is, we know it holds no inherent value to the person who drops it. but a bible/koran/torah? who throws that on the ground? for what purpose? that and the on/off train behavior makes it hard to comprehend their state of mind.

    either that, or in the short span of her daily commute, she renounced her faith and decided she would follow her childhood dreams of playing professional women’s volley ball. in paris. if only she could remember her stop.

    btw, how do you like their mass transit systems? how does it compare to the NYC metro?

    • amritaraja says:

      Hmm. So the transit system is pretty good, actually. Within the city you never have to wait long to grab the next train – usually 2-3 minutes between trains (except during later night hours, when you can wait about 7-10 min for the next train). Unfortunately, the metro does close at night, unlike NYC. On the plus side, it’s MUCH easier to navigate than NYC, I think it’s the easiest metro to navigate that I’ve ever seen.

      I have to take the RER out of the city to go to work, and I’m on one of the newer (less used) lines, so the trains come every half-hour – which means if I miss one by a minute, I’ve got a looooong wait.

      Oh, and they strike. No strikes yet, but I hear they enjoy putting up a fight in November, when it’s getting cold, so that they can stay home from work.

      But overall, I think I like the system better than DC, and certainly better than NYC.

  3. Tom Evans says:

    It’s difficult to find experienced people for this subject,
    but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!


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