‘We just needed to be home’: A Glasgow student in Paris shares her experience of Friday night

Rachel is studying in the French capital on a year abroad

Sitting in the cinema on Friday night in Paris, initially we started to wonder why people were leaving. This was the most anticipated film of the year, surely they couldn’t be so bored they had to leave? We were shaking our heads and trying to concentrate on the film. That is until I looked at my phone to check the time.

I had over 40 texts as well as Whatsapp and Facebook messages asking if I was okay. Out of all of those messages only one told me what was actually going on: “You hear about the shootings? Hope you are safe.”

It’s moments like that which you remember in your life as being the most clear. Shootings, in Paris.

I’m in a cinema. We’re all sitting ducks. No wonder everyone was leaving: we need to get out of here.

We Googled Paris shootings against the wishes of the woman sitting next to me whose eyes were burning a hole into the side of my face. 80 dead after a shooting at Le Bataclan. We left immediately and exited the Cinema onto Boulevard du Montparnasse.

Paris in that moment is one of the creepiest things I have ever seen. The normally frantic and dangerous roads were filled only with taxis and the pavements were practically empty.

The streetlights made everything a little bit more eerie as restaurants shut their doors hours early. I quickly replied to my parents to let them know I was OK and tried to find the bus we needed because the metro was shut.

The streets were quiet, but those who were still around seemed frantic and panicked, looking for a way home or on the phone checking in with loved ones. My mind felt so clear and focused. We just needed to be home and all I could think about was getting there.

As we walked down the street towards a taxi rank it was getting less and less busy. We found out there was more than one shooting and attackers were positioned all across Paris carrying out attacks. We turned around again and walked back towards the busier area where we would be most likely to find a way home.

At this point my flatmate was texting me a lot of information: what bus to catch and numbers for taxis. Then she started urging me to find a #porteouverte on Twitter: people who were opening their homes to those who couldn’t find a way home.  Her tone had changed and I knew what was happening must be scaring her, watching the news at home she would know exactly what was going on.

We were standing at a taxi rank with a huge queue and all around us people were on the phone, running around looking for taxis and staring blankly into space. Some people were crying. People were in survival mode: shocked and upset but very focussed.

Ambulances were going past continuously and there was no sign of them stopping. They made it more real, more urgent and more evil.  How many people had been hurt? Where were the attackers now?

As it stood, we were in no immediate danger, but we didn’t know where the attackers were or where they were headed next. I was then told to find somewhere sheltered like a courtyard or behind a building as there were people on the loose with guns and we needed to find somewhere safe.

At the same time I got a text to say the Metro line we needed had re-opened and so we headed towards it, a little hesitant at the prospect of being inside a metro carriage after the news of a possible terrorist attack.

The police were everywhere, at every stop as well as private security who were also armed.

When we eventually got home, it still hadn’t fully hit me what had happened. I started to reply to messages and let everyone know we were safe but the severity and the sadness of the situation didn’t really hit home until 24 hours later.

48 hours after the worst terrorist attack since the London bombings and the worst attack on France since World War Two, the country is in mourning. Markets are closed, the streets and (most obviously) the normally packed metro are eerily quiet.

Place de la Republique on Sunday

A grand exception to this is Place de la Republique,  the site of the protests and demonstrations after Charlie Hebdo. On a normal day people would sit on the benches and on the monument to have lunch, a cigarette and a chat with friends. Skateboarders normally take up the majority of space using the steps and benches as a makeshift skate park.

The square was absolutely heaving yesterday with people of all races, nationalities, ages and genders paying their respects to the 129 men, women and children who have been killed.

These people stand together, despite the rule against large gatherings, to show they aren’t broken, they aren’t scared and they aren’t defeated. We stand together.