Fishing in Beirut

May 12, 2010

Part 8: Te Quiero (scene 15)

Filed under: Character : Aria, Character : Frank, Part 8 : Te Quiero — fishinginbeirut @ 07:45

There was a massive explosion at Montparnasse. Frank heard it from his room, but he didn’t know what he’d heard, and only later found out. He was in the middle of detailing some Berlin mini-adventure, when suddenly a deep and terrible boom sound brought him to a halt.
It was mid-Monday morning. April 19th 2004. He sat frozen for a second, the adrenalin rush giving him a fright, and then went to the window. The neighbours began poking out of flats below and opposite, all heads craned in the direction of Montparnasse.
“C’est les terroristes!” cried an old woman. “Les terroristes!”
Frank looked across and saw her peering from behind a curtain.
Pretty soon, after a few minutes, a burning smell hit them. It was evil and nasty in the throat, and Frank saw smoke rising in the sky to the north. His view was obscured, but he immediately thought of the tower.
La Tour Montparnasse was never visible from Frank’s apartment. He wasn’t that high up, and buildings blocked the way. Nevertheless, he knew exactly where it was, and the thick smoke lifting looked to be spot on. He got a phone call from Aria, fear in her voice.
She was at Saint Germain des Pres with Marie, and had seen straight down rue de Rennes to Montparnasse. The tower had collapsed just like the ones in New York. He could hear how terrified she was, a soaring sense of panic evident and making him chill. He wanted to be there or to transport her quickly to him.
On his own street now there was pandemonium also. The sound of sirens and screams carried through the air. Fire trucks, police, ambulances and the CRS, all careening towards the scene or heading off crowds. Frank told Aria to go home and ring him when she got there.
He didn’t know if she would. Immediately afterwards he tried to call her back, but the signal was busy and then died. He kept on trying, wishing they’d never hung up.
Why had he been so stupid? He should have kept her on the line until she was safe. Three, four minutes passed and still no connection, and he cursed how careless he’d been to allow the call end. There was sweat on his forehead and hands, a bad taste in his mouth.
He left the flat. This was pointless, futile, but he wasn’t thinking. No sooner had he arrived on the street than a cop pushed him back. “Rentrez!” he shouted. “Rentrez-vous!” Frank tried to explain that he couldn’t possibly just go home.
The policeman was distracted by a scream and Frank charged away. He got up onto rue Didot and the scene was unreal. A stampede of people was hurtling towards him, office workers, residents, children dismissed from school and couriers with bikes. Cars and vans were blocked in the roadway, some abandoned, others holding frazzled but impotent men. The police were ordering the evacuation of all vehicles and shops.
He tried Aria again. He couldn’t even hear a tone, but the screen said no link. He saw with dismay his battery was running low. The physical mush of bodies was oppressive, everyone hyped-up and wild. Children with their mothers were terrified, chaos all around.
Frank finally made contact. He ducked down rue Morard, and when he heard her voice his immediate panic subsided. She was ok she said, they’d been herded the far side of the river.
Barriers had been put up at Chatelet, and this is where they were, the CRS with bullhorns attempting to manage the mob. Somebody whacked against Frank and he nearly dropped the phone.
“So you’re fine?” he shouted in the receiver. “You’re really fine?”
“I’m OK,” she said. “We’re gonna try and get home.”
“I’ll make it somehow. It might take forever but just ring again when you’re there. OK? Promise me.” Her voice was drowned out as a police bike screeched to a standstill.
“Rentrez! Rentrez!” This was all they could think of instructing the public. Go home to your houses, get out of the streets. Frank started heading east, away from his apartment.
At Tolbiac things were quieter, although all Metros had stopped operating. He was trying to move very fast, before roadblocks were in place. On a couple of occasions he skirted cops angrily chasing him, and the pain in his ankle shot through his leg like a bolt.
He crossed the Seine at Pont de Bercy, after an hour. Right there on the bridge you could forget there had just been an attack. He found progress easier on the other side, taking a wide route towards Republique. He was asked for his address, but simply gave Aria’s flat. Within another hour and a half he’d arrived at her door.
The four of them together made the sense of shock less overwhelming. The burden of total confusion could be shared around. Frank realised he’d walked for three hours in a daze, a blurred adrenalin momentum it would be difficult to replicate. He remembered pausing on the bridge, and thought it utterly surreal. Aria played with a small silver ring on her finger.
The body count was increasing, 2,000 people missing or presumed dead. The TV spoke of blood streaking the pavement. Frank’s sense of time was horribly askew, and he no longer had any idea of the sequence of events. How long after he’d heard the sound before the madness in the streets. His mind contained a jumble of imagery, flashing sirens and faces locked in fear. He still felt he heard the cries and shouts in his ears.
It seemed like the city had been stolen. The magical swirl of darkness and light spirited away. In its place stood a war zone of barriers and entrapment. The notion of going to a café had been rendered absurd.
Frank watched repeated footage of the tower surroundings. He was already certain these pictures would permanently remain. No one had captured the explosion itself, or at least no one so far discovered. All that could be shown was rubble, corpses, and smoke.
“I can’t get through to my family,” said Laura. Frank had never seen her vulnerable and fragile before. Sitting in a chair with the phone cord round her wrist, she was like a child, an innocent. Of all the things he could have thought in that moment, why did he think that?
“It’s the system,” he said. “It’s just that it can’t cope with so many calls.”
He told her to try again in a few minutes, but she didn’t, and redialled immediately.
Aria looked out the window at the courtyard and bins. TVs in other apartments showed the same as hers. She knew now she was lucky to have caught her mother a little earlier, even though news of the bomb hadn’t yet filtered through. Aria had had to tell the whole story, explaining she was fine.
The TV speculated on possible perpetrators and motives. It was odd how quickly they jumped to an Arab link. Talk of September 11th, Bin Laden, Afghanistan training camps and Islamic extremists. They didn’t have a shred of information or fact. The news anchor reminded viewers of previous terrorist threats in the nineties and before. For a second he seemed to flirt with the notion it could be ETA or the IRA. Then he returned to the Muslims.
Marie asked to turn it off for a little while. Frank wanted to stay watching, but the girls did not. In the silence they heard the newsreader on someone else’s set. The muffled voice continued to struggle to make sense.
Frank felt totally exhausted. It swooped down over him, and his body slumped in the chair. His eyes closed and his mind went on stand-by, ears not accepting external stimuli anymore. The last thing he remembered was Laura saying who wants tea.

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