It was a typical Friday night. I was getting ready to meet friends for dinner and drinks — the perfect start, I figured, to a relaxing weekend.
But the restaurant became a bloody crime scene: Gunmen opened fire at Le Petit Cambodge when my friends were across the street, awaiting their table.
They’d never heard gunshots before: They thought they were listening to fireworks — until everyone threw their drinks to the floor and ran. Then instinct kicked in, and my friends followed the panicked crowd.
I couldn’t understand why they were so shaken as they rushed home, unexpected, in tears: They wouldn’t sit down. They wouldn’t eat.
Then we turned on the news. We’ve been glued ever since as reports rolled in of a series of shootings and suicide bombings in the neighbourhoods we frequent daily left more than 120 people dead.
It’s nearly 2:30 a.m. here and we’re wide awake, holed up in my tiny Parisian flat as sirens wail and helicopters chop the air outside.
We’ve been told not to leave.
We’ve made a flurry of teary-eyed phone calls, text messages and Facebook updates to let family and friends know we’re all right.
We’re waiting impatiently for updates from friends elsewhere in Paris, many of whom had close calls of their own.
One was supposed to meet friends at the Bataclan. He was on his way when the attacks began, then turned around and went home.
His friend was trapped inside.
She was finally rescued by army personnel.
Another two ended up in a bar in a nearby neighbourhood — Belleville — where they’re still under lockdown because police say gunmen are on the loose.
I live in the Marais on Paris’s Rive Droite, near the Place de la Republique, where locals came together to hold candlelight vigils and gatherings following the shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo last January.
Le Petit Cambodge is a 10-minute walk from our house.
I walk past the Bataclan concert hall — where police say at least 100 people were killed in the wake of an apparent hostage-taking — nearly every day.
There’s a lot we still don’t know.
But my friends are convinced that if they were seated at that restaurant, if they hadn’t been made to wait for a table, they wouldn’t have made it home.
Friday night was darkly reminiscent of a similar horror 10 months ago, when Charlie Hebdo journalists were shot to death.
Parisians I interviewed in the wake of that January shooting told me their city felt tainted.
“Everyone’s getting paranoid. I don’t know how it’s going to be in the next few days. That’s the big question,” Victor Ashe said.
That sentiment’s seeping in all over again.
We’ve felt so safe in Paris over the past few months. I take the metro daily, walk to French class, pick up my groceries, do my laundry.
My friend Agathe Moreaux is French, has lived in Paris for six years. Now she’s scared to take the subway.
“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” she said.
Maybe she’s right. Some friends called their bosses to cancel their Saturday work shifts. The rest of us have scrapped our plans to go out.
We don’t feel safe tonight. And we’re praying for Paris.