A check off the bucket list
On November 13, 2015, I was doing something that I had always dreamed of doing since I was a child - I was traveling to Paris.
I began the evening by boarding a train in London bound for Paris’ iconic Gare du Nord station, with an arrival time into Paris at 7 p.m.
To up the theatrical element of making my way into the City of Lights, I asked my friend Vijay to cover my eyes, lead me to a taxi and guide me to the front of the Eiffel Tower with the intention of having the tower being the first thing I’d ever see in Paris.
Vijay rolled his eyes, annoyed at my request, but in the end he obliged.
We stepped out of the car and walked a few steps and I opened my eyes, the tower in all of it's glory, right in front of me. I was in Parisian heaven.
I immediately took out my phone to snap a photo of me with the tower in the background and, in haste, captioned it “In Paris, going in!”
That was the last thing I publicly posted before the attacks which would change the way I lived my life forever.
A night planned
Months before the trip, my friends and I purchased tickets to see an American band called Ms Mr, which was playing that night on the north side of the city, and we were already an hour late by the time our train arrived.
We fetched a cab off the street that already had two French women inside and we made our way into the northside neighborhoods.
About about 15 minutes into the ride, the women were telling us (in broken English) that something was happening, and they wanted to go home. We didn’t understand what they meant, and they didn’t care to elaborate.
After a brief exchange between the cab driver and the women, the driver apologized profusely and said that he couldn't take any of us any longer, and we had to get out of his cab - now.
The women got out so quickly that one of the car doors hit another car, and that car kept going despite the damage.
Within seconds of exiting the cab, I was thrown into a chaotic scene that was incomprehensible at the time.
One moment I was complaining to my friends that my phone was dying, and the next moment I found myself surrounded by running, panic-stricken strangers. I didn’t know why they were running or if they were running toward something, or away from something, so we followed.
It was at this time I started receiving text messages warning me of some type of attack that was taking place in Paris; my phone died shortly after the first few sets of messages, leaving me in the dark and throwing my loved ones overseas into a panic.
Once we turned the corner, it was immediately clear that something serious had just happened and was still in the process of happening.
The block quickly grew louder, the chaos intensified and the look of confusion could be seen on everyone’s face as we all tried to figure out what was happening. There were no answers. I had nothing to say to my friends, so we silently and cautiously stayed to the side of the scene.
As we maneuvered our way through panicked Parisians, and dozens and dozens police officers, we slowly crept onto a scene we regret walking into.
Bodies of men and women were sprawled out all over the street. Medics were frantically working on those who had light signs of life and people were crying, screaming all over the place.
I could see people and bodies being loaded into ambulances and unmarked vehicles that began lining up by the dozens, almost in a body-pickup carpool line for the hospital, or the morgue.
The scene was eerie, and every few moments I would look into the face of a stranger, who would look at me wide-eyed with the mutual understanding that we are witnessing something together that would reshape the sheltered, snapchat loving life we currently live.
My thoughts at the time were fluid. Why were people running? Why were there bodies on the ground? Was there a gas explosion? Did someone drunkenly drive into the line of partygoers? Was someone barricading themselves inside of the venues? What is happening?
The streets were filled with panic-stricken people. Men were running and taking off their shirts as they approached the heavily populated scene in front of me.
The sounds got too loud and the panic became to overbearing for me. I was afraid, and I wanted nothing more than to leave the area.
My phone was dead, but I had my Canon next to me and I did what any helpless journalism major would do- and I started taking photos.
I didn't take too many because I was afraid, and I knew my family was trying to contact me and I needed to get back to my hotel to let them know I was alive, and I was OK. After some time, the sounds from the scene became too unbearable to take, and I had to leave.
Walking away, I was frazzled. I wanted answers. I wanted to know what was going on.
This wasn't what Paris was supposed to be. What if the messages were right? What if that was a terrorist attack? What if the gunmen were around me? It was an odd feeling - the feeling of being helpless, scared and disconnected to the world through my phone and unable to obtain information because of a language barrier.
Our ears ringing with the sounds of distress and panic, we walked wide-eyed and quiet.
All of the times I have read about terrorist attacks I never thought I'd just stumble onto the aftermath of one the deadliest ones in history. I was just out to see a concert, and life changed in an instant (I later found out that the manager of the band I was supposed to see was shot in the chest, but survived his injuries.)
A long walk home
During the walk back to the hotel, It was an unsaid thing that our nerves and hearts were broken.
We walked by a small American branded hotel and I saw people crowding in the lobby. I knocked on the door and I begged them to let me in so I could sit for a moment and call a cab. There were no cabs around, but a hotel worker offered to drive us back to our hotel.
On the way back, our driver slowly came to a stop in an alleyway just a few blocks from our hotel. Curious, I looked up to see why we were stopping saw the driver holding up his phone to snap a photo of a cat which was sitting peacefully in the alley.
I wondered to myself, how could he be taking silly photos at this time? Didn't he hear what happened? Is this appropriate right now?
It came to me at that moment that there was nothing any of us could do, and we had to gather ourselves and pick up the pieces and try to make sense of what we had seen, and the reality of the world we live in.
Pieces that would in time take months to place together, but they came together nonetheless.
The driver outwardly displayed his first motion forward by taking a photo of the cat.
And I displayed mine by taking a photo of him.