Paris was burning.
My mother and I were traveling, and we'd gone to a distant suburb to visit an Algerian marketplace. "This will be like two trips in one," I told her. "North Africa and France." It was late by the time we sat down at a long wooden table under an enormous tent. We'd gotten a bit lost on a dark narrow street that seemed more like a tunnel than a street. The food stalls were steaming with things we wanted to eat, and I'd almost decided what to order when, in the distance, the blue dome of a mosque crumbled--its minaret falling end over end. There was a rumbling beneath our feet, deep and long, like thunder coming from the depths of hell. My mother heard and saw nothing. It was the collective gasp of the crowd of diners that brought her to her feet.
"What's happening?" she asked me. Before I could answer we werre swept into the crowd, ebbing and flowing first one way, then another, engulfed by a burgeoning panic. Through the window of a bar or maybe it was an apartment, I could see a TV. All of Paris was in flames. The crowd kept swirling, and I wondered if whoever was leading us was as lost as my mother and I had been earlier. I was worried about my mother's feet and how tired they must be getting. I turned to the woman next to me and spoke to her in French, asking her if she would be our guide. No, she said, she couldn't take that responsibility. And besides she had a big day tomorrow. It was her entrance exam for the university. "What will you be studying?" I asked her, wondering why she thought we'd survive to see another day.
"Pharmaceuticals," she told me.
Explosions turned the sky orange. We're probably going to die, I thought. I looked at my mom. I was not afraid. Two old ladies, I thought. And then I realized how different I would feel it was the arm of one of my daughter's that I was holding.