When she screamed, all of Paris seemed to stop.
Passing cars froze, swaying trees leaned, and somehow, even the yawning mouths of laughing children avoided closure. Flowery accents ceased, birds appeared fixed to the sky, even gelato retained its perfect composure while tourists marveled behind the still flash of their cameras. A single euro upon the concrete was about to stop spinning, a breeze gripped onto scarves, and, fifty feet away, the Eiffel Tower stopped twinkling just as the setting sun delayed oozing the last of its rays.
When the woman screamed yet again, it rang with a strong sense of fear as everything was set back in motion. The pure honesty of her screeching gave me reason to be scared. It was when I thought I’d been the only person to hear her when a group member nudged me. “Look,” she said, her finger pointing towards a petite woman with short, wavy hair squatting at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Her knees were buckled, her hands terribly shaky, and her eyes had grown so puffy it was like she had been crying for years. It was obvious something serious had happened. For, all around, red-uniformed guards patrolled the area. Still, it was as if we were the only ones witnessing the tragedy. Other tourists seemed to take no notice of the woman’s screams or cries. It was then that I realized something that would have a lasting impact on me. I realized that others were reluctant to help her because of a simple language or cultural barrier.
I began to wonder what happened, hoping I could, in some way, help. As if hearing my thoughts, the group member finally said, “she’s lost her son.” I knew she was right when I noticed the woman’s husband circling the area around us, calling out a young boy’s name. I watched in disbelief. I did not expect it at all. There I was, enjoying the Eiffel Tower’s beauty while a mother’s child was nowhere to be found. It just seemed unfair, like she didn’t deserve it.
As our tour director led us away from the woman, towards the elevator in the Tower, I looked back at the woman one last time. This time, I didn’t look back and see a stranger. I didn’t see a small figure with short, wavy hair and buckled knees or puffy eyes. No, instead, I simply saw a mother who had lost her son.
Until that very moment, everything in Paris seemed extremely foreign. The elegant architecture, riverside greenery, tiny streets, and scrumptious pastries…. they were things in Paris that I could never find back home in the Arizonan desert. However, after that European experience with EF Tours, I began to understand how we’re not so different after all. How, a thing as simple as language does not need to judge whether or not we help somebody.
When I got home, I tried to find an online story about the woman. Perhaps they had spread the news about their missing son. I found nothing. I can only hope that everything turned out alright.
I no longer think of Paris as a fun vacation spot or fashion icon. Now, I remember it as a place with real people and real experiences. For me, it was the place where I grew closer to others, especially this one woman in Paris.
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