Exactly one week ago, on a warm (50 F) and overcast Parisian winter day, Jeff and I left Chettinadu Mess, our Friday lunch spot, and headed back toward home in the hinterlands of the 17e arrondissement. We pedaled down the bike lane on Boulevard de Clichy, past giant pink megalith Tati and the Abbesses metro station, where tourists on their way to climb the steps of Montmartre to Sacre Coeur clog the sidewalk, staring down at maps while their pockets are most likely being picked from behind.
We rode further still, past the Moulin Rouge and the popular Irish bar Corcorans. At Place de Clichy, we pointed our handlebars north, cycling past the art house theater with the upstairs bistro selling 2.80 euro glasses of Cotes du Rhone that I still haven't tried, and then spun past my favorite fripperie, Guerrisol.
Pedaling closer to our apartment, the traffic grew thicker. Not unusual for a Friday really, when everyone and their grandmere makes a beeline for the peripherique to make their weekend getaway. Something was off about this traffic though. At the intersection of Avenue de Clichy and rue Cardinet, we could see a cop directing traffic, steering motorists away from a commotion further down the street. Was it a manifestation? A car accident? The journalist in me (or maybe just the nosy bit) wanted to know what the heck was going on down there.
Wheeling our bikes up onto the sidewalk, we moved through the pedestrian traffic toward the hubbub. We could see now that there were an awful lot of men in blue milling about, and that police tape blocked a rectangular swath of the street. Then we saw the bad news: a body in repose in the middle of the intersection, the distinct hump of two feet poking out from beneath an off-white sheet.
"Oh no. Somebody died," I said to Jeff.
Trying to piece together a likely scenario, I surveyed the scene for clues, my eyes settling on the king-size cement truck angled toward the body. A gruesome vignette danced about in my mind. Suddenly I didn't want to be a nosy lookyloo any more. I just wanted to cry.
"C'mon. Let's go."
For the rest of the day I semi-obsessed about the person who'd died there, just a five-minute walk from my front door. "I hope it wasn't that nice old man I was chatting with yesterday at G20," I told myself, remembering how bravely he'd stepped into that intersection, holding his cane up to stop traffic as we conversed our way through the crosswalk.
Saturday, we stopped at our local boulangerie for our daily dose of warm-from-the oven bread. I asked the guy behind the counter if he had any details on what happened the day before.
"Yes, someone was killed by a cement truck just over there."
"I thought so. God, that's terrible. Was it an old man?"
"No, no. It was a woman. She was about your age. How old are you?"
"Yeah, she was your age. XX." he said, adding three years onto my own age. "A mother with two children."
Two horrible thoughts ran through my mind simultaneously:
1. I hope to god it wasn't Sophie, a woman in the neighborhood I've become friends with. She's about my age and she has two kids.
2. Do I really look like I'm XX years old? Shit! No!
"Her name wasn't Sophie, was it?"
"No, no, I think it was Nadia."
"Oh no. Hey, do you really think I look like I'm XX years old?"
"No, no--I just meant she was around your age."
Nothing about this conversation was very cheerful. Just as I was about to melt into a pool of self-pity, Jeff walked in to remind me to get our carte de fidelite stamped. (We want that free baguette we're due after 10 stamps!)
"He just told me that bad news--it was a woman from the neighborhood with two children who died yesterday. He said she was XX years old--or, as he likes to say, MY AGE."
Jeff laughed. The guy behind the counter laughed, too. I didn't think it was so funny, but I laughed with them anyway. It's better to be old than dead, I told myself in consolation.