The Easter break from university was handy, Lucas had booked a flight before he could change his mind, but he was looking forward to the trip to Paris by himself; no rushing round sightseeing with friends or the pressure of creating the perfect romantic break for your girlfriend. Once he had found the Airbnb he would keep his promise to his grandmother then he would be free to wander at leisure around the city.
They had only had one family trip to Paris, his twelve year old self grumbling and bored, not taking much notice of Grand-maman retelling the stories of her youth. He and his father had opted for a bateau on the Seine while his grandparents, mother and sisters made the pilgrimage to Notre Dame. There had been other trips to Paris, but never all together again. He had preferred Eurodisney with the school, but now he would pay his first visit to Notre Dame and light a candle for his grandmother.
As Lucas emerged from the Metro station he sensed immediately something was wrong; a red glow in the sky, an ancient scent in the air and a strange silence. It couldn’t be happening, but somehow he was standing with the crowds looking across the water at Notre Dame burning, gazing up at the fiery spire as it toppled. His throat was tight with shock as the crowd gasped and wept. Thank God his grandmere never lived to see this day. Lucas fumbled with his phone, he must tell his mother. He snapped a picture, it seemed almost indecent, but plenty of others had their phones high above their heads. What words to follow the picture?
Lucas? I know, we just saw it on the news, thank God you’re okay.
A bubble of hysteria formed in his throat, had his mother feared he had started the conflagration by lighting his candle?
‘Of course I’m okay, but Notre Dame… Grand-maman…’
His mother was crying.
Now, surrounded by Parisians, he understood for the first time what Notre Dame had meant to his Grandmere. He sent up a prayer, the god he didn’t believe in was surely listening this evening and Grand-maman did not need a candle; centuries of incense infused wood were sending holy smoke up to Heaven.
Lucas felt at home among the crowd, not the angry gilet jaune protests he had been looking forward to watching, but united and dignified. Brexit was off the agenda here, irrelevant, but he felt a stab as he recalled how the last few years had made Grand-maman sad, Lucas’ mother irrationally angry at his poor father just because his own father had voted Brexit.
The next morning Lucas was up early along with many others as they marvelled at walls and towers still standing. He was glad now his grandmother and mother had nagged him to practice his conversational French. In the evening he joined in the singing.
On Wednesday evening he was still finding himself drawn there and thrilled to hear bells pealing out all over the city. He vowed to visit the great lady every day of Holy Week.
Thursday evening found Lucas, with new French friends he had acquired, gathering outside Hotel de Ville to pay tribute to the fire fighters.
Now it was Good Friday and perhaps it was time to step inside a church as some of his new friends would be doing.