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.

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