I was carefree in Paris on that summer day, in the charming Haussmann-era apartment I was renting with my co-author Georgia. We were there to research our book on Ballet Russe dancer Roman Jasinski. Each morning we mapped our strategy and gathered our courage, and set out with heavy messenger bags filled with our supplies: the transcript of my interviews with Mr. Jasinski, our notebooks, our cameras.
On this particular day we were headed to the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the main public library, two train rides away. At one of the many Metro stops, a small blonde woman chose to duck under my arm, squeezing between me and the pole I was clutching for balance. She turned suddenly while under my arm, and with her huge heavy backpack sent me reeling backwards. I grabbed at thin air just as the train lurched forward, and found myself sitting on the lap of a young woman. Before I could react, the train turned, and I rolled over onto a baby in her stroller. The baby screamed, the mother started shouting, and the occupants of the Metro car raised their voices in alarm. Someone helped me up, and I apologized profusely in my limited French while a young man seated nearby stared at me with a questioning gaze. As Georgia and I left the train, I apologized again, this time in tears, and was ignored by the furious mother. Who could blame her?
As the doors were closing behind me, the train car exploded in comment. Above the raised voices I could hear the young man shouting, “Madame, Madame,” while explaining something in rapid French to the mother and gesturing toward the careless tourist, who resolutely kept her back to the group. Was the young man explaining what actually had happened? I will never know.
Sitting on a bench sobbing, I wondered how something so terrible could happen so quickly. “It was just an accident,” said Georgia, “which the mother will soon realize. The baby will never remember. She wasn’t injured, just frightened.” True, true, I agreed, the baby probably won’t remember — but how can I ever forget?
Sometimes I think of that child, with her little purple outfit, her little eyeglasses, her little pink stroller. By now she must be in high school, flirting with boys, preparing for her exams. As I look at my own grandchildren, I’m able to put it into perspective. One incident, frightening yet harmless in the end, perhaps forgotten as quickly as it happened. One can only hope.