Paris, France – On Rue Oberkampf, 300 metres from Le Bataclan, a man walks out of a florist’s shop, with a white rose in his hand, and towards the nearby cordon of police who surround the concert hall that was the scene of one of the attacks that struck Paris on Friday evening.
Inside the shop, the florist stands behind the counter. A tall, skinny man, he seems to go about his work mechanically.
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“Selling roses is our duty right now,” he says, quietly. “This is why I opened my shop this morning. And we need to keep it running.”
Bruno is 30 years old. He works alongside one colleague and his girlfriend, Vanina.
On Friday night, he was inside the bar Le Carillon, in front of Le Petit Cambodge, where 14 people were shot dead. So far, the death toll of the attacks stands at 129. Bruno, Vanina, and their two friends survived.
He wants to talk about what happened.
“At first we think it is firecrackers. Then we hear the glasses,” he says. “And after this it goes really fast. Right away it is like a rugby scrum. There are three or four people above me. And the waiters quickly scream to us to come towards them.”
He pauses for a moment. Cars are passing by and from time to time there is the sound of a siren. He confides that, right now, every noise hurts his ears.
Our conversation stops as customers come in looking to buy a rose. None of them know that the man who serves them survived the attack over which they grieve. They do not know that, last night, he was lying, frightened, on the floor of a busy bar in this usually bustling Parisian neighbourhood.
“In those moments, it is the primal instinct that drives you,” he continues. “But then in less than two seconds, you think about your friends. Are they okay?”
When the assault rifles quietened, Bruno, Vanina and their two friends left the spot where they had sheltered behind the bar. Vanina, who is a trainee doctor, immediately began to help others.
“One person died while my girlfriend was holding her,” Bruno says.
Vanina smiles from time to time – at her boyfriend, at her colleague, at customers – but her face looks pained. Shortly before the attack, she had been smoking cigarettes outside the bar, talking on the phone to relatives and friends.
Bruno doesn’t want to be scared right now, but he says that what he saw after the shooting will stay with him forever.
“Some faces with bullets inside. Some ravaged meat.”
‘Probably all dead’
The police and emergency services arrived within three to four minutes, he says. Then they began to split the people there into three groups: the ones who had lost relatives, the ones who could provide information and the dead.
“But the ones who saw some things are probably all dead,” he says, matter-of-factly.
His relatives, knowing that he often went to that bar, began to call him. The calls kept coming.
“I did not tell my parents I was there,” he says. “I told my mum that I was at home. If she knew, she would freak out, and not sleep at night any more.”
He still doesn’t want her to know, and when we ask if we can take a photograph of him, he refuses. But it isn’t just his fear of his mother finding out that makes him dismiss any suggestion of a photo.
“When I got out of the bar, I could see some guys filming with their smartphones, taking photos,” he says. “It made me crazy.”
He tries to put into words the “undefinable feelings” he felt that night in the bar.
“You are in a bar, and two seconds after, there are dead people.”
There was one thought that kept running through his mind, though: he thought about war zones where people are bombed on a daily basis.
“For me it is the same s*** everywhere, no difference, but here we can see it.”
For now, he prefers not to look for an explanation or cause, he says, talking faster and seeming more agitated.
“All these f****** conflicts due to s***** authorities,” he says. “No gods, no masters. That confirms what I thought already. It goes beyond our comprehension.”
His colleague hands him a tea cup and he goes back behind the counter to serve his customers.
“The shops needs to keep running,” he concludes.