Robert had gone slack-jawed and moody from watching the news coverage of the shootings at a satirical magazine offices just a few kilometers from the apartment he shared with Cybille. The shaky footage shot by a passerby who heard cries of "Allah Akbar!” then the horrible rat-ta-tat-tat of automatic weapons had aired so many times that his outrage and disgust had numbed into weariness and fatigue. What could anyone do against those who reply to insults with bullets?
Cybille burst through the front door with a bag of groceries and a blast of fresh air.
“People are out in the streets tonight,” she said. “Everywhere I went was clogged with people, some carrying candles, others with these signs. Je suis Charlie.”
“Yes,” he said, gesturing weakly at the television. “I saw it.”
She hoisted the grocery bag to the counter.
“No, you haven’t seen it,” she said. “Come with me and experience it in person. Don't just be an observer.”
He straggled behind her down the steps of their apartment building, wrapping his scarf around his throat. An exercise in futility, he thought. What makes people come together after these tragedies? He suspected that more than a few wished mainly to be selected to be on television so they could broadcast their feelings and opinions. Another couple rushed by them, passing through the yellow glow of the street lamp and into a thick sea of people.
They did not join the crowd as much as it absorbed them; Robert followed her into its throbbing heart. Waves of sorrow, anguish and fear washed over him, the collective consciousness of the crowd thrumming in pain at the workplace shooting motivated by religious zeal and tasteless, offensive cartoons. Were they courting disaster at that magazine? Did they deserve it?
Someone started singing the French national anthem and soon the crowd of mourners was a choir of patriots.
Let's go children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Robert joined his voice to the chorus.
Against us tyranny's
Bloody flag is raised!
In the countryside, do you hear
The roaring of these fierce soldiers?
They come right to our arms
To slit the throats of our sons, our friends!
The surge of song shifted the mood of those assembled to resilience and hope, and Robert pulled Cybille to him and held her tightly. “I’m glad we came,” he said in her ear.
What a wonderful, sorrowful, touching description of human compassion. Nicely done!