An eye-witness account of the terrorist attack on Bastille Day in Nice.
It is July, 14, 2016, 10.28pm. I leave Le Sansas, a salsa bar about 200m from the Promenade des Anglais that I go to regularly. I explain to my friends that I have to go buy some cigarettes for my mother. The owner of Le Sansas tells me to hurry up as the off-licence at the corner shuts at 10.30pm.
He was right, it is closed. I decide to go on to the flower market in the old quarter, where there’s the only off-licence still open. The queue is huge; I will have to wait for at least a quarter of an hour. A young girl next to me answers the phone. ‘Oh, OK, I’m coming home straightaway.’ There’s another shout as someone screams – ‘We have to stop believing everything we hear; there wasn’t an attack in during the Euros and there won’t be one tonight either.’
A tide of humans appears rushing towards us, over turning everything in its way.
She’s barely finished speaking when a tide of humans appears rushing towards us, over turning everything in its way. I am next to a mother and her son, he is called Yanis. He can’t be older than 10. I worry only about him, that he isn’t crushed. A young woman behind me collapses in tears, and crumbles to the floor. I react nervously, saying that we know nothing, that there are rumours, that things happen, and above all one shouldn’t cause panic, that either way we can’t do anything. But I start to be frightened. A feeling I hadn’t felt up till now. My muscles tighten, my voice and and my hands tremble.
Should we crouch down. Above all, we must stay calm, think; we don’t know what’s happening yet. People are running. I ask Yanis and his mother to go into the off-licence. No one know whether we should believe if something has happened, but in my head I say to myself ‘It’s over; that’s it. … I can’t die, if I die, my mother will die. I can’t die.’ Yanis starts to be frightened, to ask what’s the matter. We talk as I try and calm him down. But perhaps it’s really me that I’m trying to calm down. There are fewer people outside now.
Strangers ask what is happening, children scream, calling their parents.
The shopkeeper jokes around; he tells us that his shop isn’t a ‘refuge’. No one knows what to say. People here like to joke; they are proud, and and can always laugh at themselves. Our motto is ‘M’en Bati Sieu Nissart’ (which basically means ‘I don’t give a shit, I’m from Nice’) so we continue joking, laughing that those who stayed in the off-licence are the bravest, or are simply the ones most addicted to cigarettes… I call my boyfriend who doesn’t pick up, I want to speak to him so badly, in case – yes that’s my state of mind – it might be the last time I talk to him. I leave the corner shop. Yanis’s mother thanks me for calming her son and we look at each other, deeply, for a moment, and say goodbye. Strangers ask what is happening, children scream, calling their parents. People crush on to the tram which is not moving. And sirens start to wail. I decide to take the back streets and walk home, avoiding the crowds. I call my mother, I tell her not to look at Facebook. I call my friends who are still at the bar. They are in the cellar, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Everyone is glued to their phones, faces immobile. We still don’t know what is happening. Others talk about gunshots. I have never walked so fast in my life.
When I get home, I tell my mother that it was probably nothing.
But it was.
A lorry, 15 metres long, has crashed down the Promenade des Anglais just after the fireworks. As I write this, 84 people have been killed.
We call everyone, we receive messages from the whole world. And despite the fear and our vulnerability, we feel rooted, surrounded and loved.
It happened on my doorstep, and it can happen wherever, however, and to anyone. The next day, I can’t help repeating that it was unreal. But it is just that: it’s real.