"I was of the dead. But I was not dead." A Charlie Hebdo survivor’s story

I heard a woman cry: “What the… ?” Another woman’s voice cried out. Then a third voice let out a great shout of anger, more strident, more aggressive, a kind of “Aaaaaah.” I know whose voice that was. It was Elsa Cayat. To me, her cry meant purely and simply: “Who the hell are these aaaaaarseholes?” That screeched syllable stretched from one room to the other. It was filled with rage as well as fear – but even more, it was full of liberty. It may have been the first time in my life when that word “liberty” was more than just a word – it was a physical sensation.

The dead were almost holding hands. The foot of one was touching the belly of another, whose fingers lightly grazed the face of a third, who was, in turn, tilted towards a fourth one’s hip, while that one seemed to stare at the ceiling. Like this, in these postures, and for ever after, they had become my comrades. It could have been a pose from some danse macabre, like those I had occasionally seen in the church of La Ferté-Loupière on the way to my grandparents’ house in Nevers in central France. Or it might have been a string of little paper figures cut by a child’s hand or even an unknown and very dark version of Matisse’s The Dance.

I was one of them. But I was not dead.

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