I look up from my French verb conjugations with annoyance. Riding the sleek tram through the city of Bordeaux has lost its charm. We have jerked to a stop barely after leaving a station. I am late for class. The press of standing-room-only commuters and students buzz with the hope that no time will be lost.
Someone has pulled the red emergency lever. A legging-clad university student presses the intercom button to talk to the driver. I strain forward, trying to understand what she is saying.
“Excuse me, this young woman isn’t feeling well.”
The driver seems unsure of procedure. The student rolls her mascara-lashed eyes, exuding French exasperation, with a touch of adolescence. “So, can you open the doors?”
The double doors slid open. A navy-suited businessman carries out a rumpled dark-skinned girl. He lays her down on the station bench, supporting her head and shoulders in his lap. The fainted girl’s eyes are closed. Her jeans are not fashionable, her frizzy black hair is unbraided, unadorned. Probably from the shabby high-rise apartments around the university, I think.
A teenager steps off the tram. His face is tanned and Moroccan, and he is tricked-out in a stereotypical sweat suit, gold chains, and faux Louis Vuitton sack. However, he plants himself next to the girl and dials 15, the French number for paramedics, on his “bling-bling” cell phone.
The unwritten laws of Society seem to have been suspended. The mixed classes and races of people of the morning commute are working together in an emergency. I feel the mood change in myself—frustration flies away to be replaced by concern. In France, you rarely have to explain why you are ten minutes late anyway.
Someone passes a bottle of fizzy Perrier water to the businessman. The girl accepts the offered drink with a small nod. I wonder if she fainted from a blood sugar problem, and search my sack for the apple that, unfortunately, I ate yesterday.
The tram conductor announces on the intercom that paramedics are en route—we will continue. The businessman and Moroccan kid wave us on; they will wait and be late for their day.