We left France on Valentine’s Day, and in this exit we took a train from Caen to Paris, then the Roissy Bus from central Paris to Charles de Gaulle Airport. The train times were rather sporadic, and so there was a 2.5 hour gap between our train arrival and bus departure.
We left Caen, and we arrived at Gare Saint Lazare in Paris. My friend and I made a camp for ourselves in the food court area, a mass of seating between a Starbucks and Burger King. Near the gate for the Normandy lines, there was a walking “O” mascot promoting the OUI booking site for the French national rail service, SNCF. It was truly remarkable how many people stopped to wave at the “O.” This “O” was not a real character. It had no backing narrative, no story in which it derived context, and no semblance to an animal or being in the real world, yet the people walking through the station were just as enchanted by this whimsical installment.
A few children even stopped to give hugs…it was as if this were a sighting of Tigger in Disneyland.
There were also several men walking through the station holding single, wrapped roses…clearly en route to their valentines. The general atmosphere of positivity was making me forget about the fact that I was stuck in a train station for two hours.
To the left of the OUI installment, an elderly man and woman entered the food court area. The man was stooped over, dependent upon his walker and wife for his every step. They approached a table, and the woman tried to slide a chair out for her husband to sit. They both laughed as they realized the chairs were bolted to the floor in this seating area. They then adapted, altered their positions, and eventually the man planted himself within the seat. His wife then left to purchase some items at a nearby shop.
I shifted my focus back to the OUI mascot interactions.
After about five minutes, I noticed the elderly wife shuffling back to her husband. Suddenly, I heard a loud smack. I jolted in my seat. The woman had tripped on a taped-over cable. A girl distributing SNCF pamphlets beside the “O” ran over. Another elderly, elegant-looking woman rushed from the food court. A man in a conductor uniform ran forward, from somewhere behind the archways concealing the train platforms. They all gathered around the fallen woman, while her husband looked on helplessly from his seat in the food court. How suddenly something can happen; less than ten minutes ago, she was gently guiding him to his chair. Now, with a single fall, it was uncertain who could depend on whom.
The fallen woman was now seated on the floor, disorientedly clutching her wrist. The elderly-elegant woman never left her side; she crouched on the floor to ask specifics of the pain and offer comfort. Eventually, the conductor helped the fallen to her feet and slowly guided her to her husband. The elegant woman followed, carrying the injured’s purse and bags. The elegant woman continued to sit with the husband and wife until the paramedics arrived.
After a brief examination, the paramedics led the wife away. The husband followed, supported by the arm of the elegant woman. I never saw them re-emerge.
This event shocked me. The husband and wife had plans for the day, and suddenly they did not. They had an established relationship dynamic, at least physically, where the husband leaned on the wife. With one fall, this could all be permanently disrupted. We are all aware, at least intellectually, of our fragility, but it is another thing to actually observe this…and, to watch how anti-climactic it is in a broader sense. At the moment of the fall, all who heard the impact of her body on the linoleum snapped to attention. All within a certain radius rushed to help. Within minutes of the paramedics’ exit, all who witnessed the fall were gone, replaced by travellers whose sole object of intrigue was the dancing “O.”