Bataclan Friday 13th November 2015
|"Into the valley of death rode the 600..." said Tom, the only Englishman in the group, as they entered the Boulevard Voltaire and saw the theatre entrance just ahead. He was a young man fresh out of the British army, still military fit and quite distinctive with his ginger hair and freckles and he was taller than most Parisians. He was on a French course in Paris when he had met Marie-Clare. He'd approached her in one of those cafes in the back streets of the Bastille area, just down the road from the theatre. They had been going out almost a month now, but his course was finished in just a week.
"Dimwit that is Balaclava, not Bataclan, anyway why death?" said his French girlfriend. "Didn't they teach you anything in that army of yours in Afghanistan?"
Tom admired his girlfriend. She had one of those shawls on, that French girls like to wear, and a tasteful skirt. She looked quite chic. A head shorter than him, but taller in heels, her brown curls and green eyes always made him smile, and those lips...Ooh la la he thought to himself.
"Hey, I was in the infantry, not the cavalry. But look around you Voltaire was a dead-head atheist..." he pointed at the street name, "and this death metal band sing songs to Satan. This place might well be more dangerous than Helmand province."
"Well Tom, my brave soldier, thank you for coming with me to the concert," said Marie-Clare hugging his arm and giggling.
He kissed her on the cheek which led to her turning into him and a full-blown kiss on the lips. The others rolled their eyes and continued on to the theatre. Tom broke the kiss laughing.
"I am totally under your spell, Marie-Clare, lead on."
Marie-Clare led him into the nightclub, showing her tickets at the door. They had lower-tier seats at the same level as the band but not the front row, rather near the middle and to the sidewall.
Eagles of Death Metal were singing a song about the devil when Tom and Marie-Clare heard the bangs from outside. They shrugged at each other, it was probably nothing.
"Fireworks," shouted Marie-Clare. Tom nodded.
Who'll love the devil?...
Who'll song his song?...
Who will love the devil and his song?...
I'll love the devil!...
I'll sing his song!...
The spotlights behind the band gave then an almost Messianic air as they shone into the audience's faces and the whole theatre pounded with the beat. The place smelled of sweat and excitement and was mainly young French people out for a good time many of them on drugs. But this music was awful Tom thought and I am not standing for these lyrics. He rolled his eyes and just sat down refusing to sing to the devil and Marie Clare joined him kissing him on the lips and giggling at his discomfort. He knew that for her this was just one big joke. She did not believe in God or the Devil, just in l'amour, as she put it, or love as he understood it. He loved that she loved him though and that he could say just about anything and have her in a fit of giggles. Maybe she is the one for me, he thought to himself as the kiss intensified. But then she stood up to rejoin the concert and he joined her just to be with her.
Seconds later three armed men burst into the theatre. The band scattered to the stage exit and disappeared. The lead guitarist moved towards the audience. Shots were fired and the men shouted "Allah Akhbar" and started mowing down the audience, row by row. Tom instinctively ducked, and his military training kicked in. He led Marie-Clare towards the emergency exit at the back. However, then he noticed that people were being shot down approaching that door, but not from the shooters on stage. So he changed his mind, understanding there was another shooter by the door. The people who went towards the back emergency exit were also now being shot dead, in the back, or by the gunman apparently positioned there. The theatre went dark and only the light of the assault rifles lit the place up. The sounds of gunfire and screams came from all around. Tom kept his head remembering the doors he had seen at the back of the stage and started leading Marie Clare towards them. They picked their way over bodies covered in blood or people just trying to keep their heads down. When they were close enough they sprinted for one of the backroom doors making it through. They saw a room almost full of people. Tom grabbed the door, holding it for Marie Clare, and then rammed it shut.
"We need to barricade this," he said, but in English to blank faces. When he realized they did not understand him he glanced at Marie-Clare hoping for a translation. Then he realized she was out of it, consumed by the fears of the moment. Using his phone light he pointed to the big costume cupboard on the sidewall. He tried to move it. It was too heavy but two other men understood and helped him to barricade the doors. Then they all sat in the dark, backs against the walls, just waiting. All the time the shots and screams continued to sound from the theatre. Single shots spoke of executions, probably of those they had seen pretending to be dead and lying on the floor of the theatre. On occasion, the shots were punctuated by laughter and speeches in accented French that Tom did not understand.
When the shots died down, some in the room hoped it might be over and wanted to open the door. Tom was the scariest guy there however and threatened to punch them if they tried. Then at around 22:15, they heard policemen shouting and an exchange of gunfire, and an explosion. Tom remembered the vests that the terrorists wore.
"I think a terrorist just blew himself up, still two more to go."
It went quiet for one hour fifteen minutes and some of the women in the room started to panic. Tom had to seize one and slap her to keep her quiet. The others by this time recognized the sense in the silence and helped him calm her down. Another time a mobile went off and was quickly switched to silent along with every other mobile there.
At 23:30 they heard the sound of a policeman calling outside the door. Marie Clare nodded that this was real and Tom and the men moved the cupboard from the door. Men covered them with assault rifles as they ran for their lives the way that the soldiers indicated. They were free.
Outside in the fresh air and being led away from the scene, all the emotions on hold in the "warzone" were now released. They were waiting to be processed at a distance from the theatre with police all around them. Tom was shaken and angry. He had had all this experience of gunfire in a real war why was this happening to him in Paris!? He was also angry with Marie-Clare.
"What did I fight for over there? I had this dream of freedom, that I was defending, I was fighting for the joy and freedom of people like you. But tonight well it all broke. Why did you bring me to listen to this Satanic rubbish? How can you not believe in the Devil? We just saw his people doing his work while you lot were all singing his praise. We were kissing when they were singing 'Kiss the Devil' and look what happened!" He felt sick inside and unclean and he looked at her with disgust in his eyes.
Marie-Clare looked like she wanted to protest but the words did not come out and instead, she just cried.
"Oh, good grief, and now come the waterworks, no this is too much, we are over and I never want to see you again."
After that night Tom and Marie-Clare did not speak again for many years. Deep down he knew he was being ridiculous blaming her for what happened. He was angry at himself for going to such a concert for the sake of a "bit of skirt." But he thought about Marie-Clare often and almost called her many times. The fact that the concertgoers had been singing to Satan when the gunmen started mowing them down made it feel more like an execution to him than an attack. Were these really the people he had been fighting for over there in Afghanistan? Maybe the terrorists had a point. Even the church where the memorial service was held, Notre Dame, burned down years later. It made him feel that France was a godless spiritual wasteland full of atheists who were just getting what was coming to them. If God wanted nothing to do with the place then why should he either? He voted for BREXIT and then Boris and the distance grew greater. It was irrational but it was so deeply rooted he could not shake it off. He also knew that the outrage in the press against the terrorists would never allow him to express his true feelings.
Then one rainy day in October 2021 he came back to Paris, as a witness at the Palais de Justice. The streets around were thick with Gendarmes in Kevlar and even troops. Whole areas of Paris had been barricaded off. He showed the man at the checkpoint his ID and was allowed through and into the Palais de Justice. It was there that he saw Marie-Clare again, waiting to be called to the witness stand in the waiting room where he also sat. They were alone and she rose from her seat. He noticed a large catholic crucifix hung around her neck and that she had a different look and feel to her. More conservative, more chastened, maybe less confident. She looked vulnerable and suddenly he felt an overwhelming feeling of love for her as if the years in between had never occurred at all. He approached her and the old attraction came flooding back. He remembered what they had been through together and suddenly all those feelings of blame towards her evaporated. They hugged and then both removed their covid masks. It was such an intimate gesture of mutual trust that it reminded Tom of the first time he had slept with Marie-Clare. Then they kissed, both of them crying while doing so.
"I have been so stupid, can you forgive me. All those years we could have been together," said Tom.
"It was right, there were things that had to happen to me in those years before we could be together for real," said Marie-Clare. Tom looked at her crucifix.
"That is a big cross you are wearing, does that mean you are a believer now?"
"If there is a devil, and we both know that there is, then there must be a God. So yes now I am the kind of girl you could show to your mum," laughed Marie Clare. She looked down suddenly uncertain. She was more beautiful now than she had ever been before. He reached for her left hand and with his right raised her chin, looking into those fabulous green eyes, still wet with tears,
"Yes exactly, that is what you are to me and much more."
Marie-Clare giggled and his heart filled with joy.
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