A still morning, the air of cheap champagne and cigarettes hung around the room whilst I fumbled around for my phone. I was staying at Hotel Voltaire, only a few metres from the Charlie Hebdo headquarters.

The time on my phone read 8.42, and the dull pain of a headache started to bore its way through my skull. I decided against surprising my girlfriend with a coffee and pain au chocolat, and placed my head back on the pillow to stave off any potential hangover or headache.

My phone began vibrating against my head, my second wake up call of the day. I was due to wake early, make a fuss over my girlfriend’s birthday and meet a friend in Le Marais for lunch.

After what can only be called a clusterfuck, my girlfriend and I headed out to the Métro stop, Oberkampf. On our way to the Rambuteau stop, everything seemed quiet. The Métro was without its usual number of passengers, accordion players and drunks spilling their guts to the world.

Upon exiting the station, we met our friend who mentioned something about an explosion nearby, and that we should stay safe. My foggy head ignored her words and dug through boxes in charity shops around the Pompidou centre. The soundtrack quickly changed from The Smiths’ Greatest Hits to The Rolling Stones versus Parisian police sirens.

It wasn’t until my phone connected to WiFi in a nearby cafe that the day’s events began to unfold before my eyes.

A tradition so deeply rooted in French culture – satire – had come to blows with extremists on 7 January 2015. At 11.30am, 12 employees of the Charlie Hebdo magazine were shot dead, whilst I was sleeping a few metres away.

On our way back to the hotel, the Richard Lenoir Métro stop was closed due to police investigation, so we alighted at Oberkampf to change for the evening.

As soon as we stepped out into dusk on boulevard Voltaire, a sense of warmth enveloped us as we approached République. Family members, friends, Parisians and fellow writers were sat in separate circles, drinking cheap cans of Kronenbourg or smoking pot in solidarity with their fallen ones.

Amongst the low chants of “Je suis Charlie”, a soft riff from an acoustic guitar floated through the trash filled alley ways. I followed the sound and ended up at a dive bar playing Interpol tracks and serving cheap larger. I felt like I was amongst a body of people who felt just like I did. As Bukowski once said in his collection Tales of Ordinary Madness, “The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it – basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near or with them.”

I stayed until the end and experienced a Parisian lock in. We chain smoked Lucky Strikes and conversed in Frenglish about the day’s events and how strongly we felt about defending freedom of speech. Half the lyrics on the CDs we listened to wouldn’t be pressed if freedom of speech was taken away. We strayed away from any slurs targeted towards religious groups involved. We drank in solidarity and to our selves. The night continued like this, as did my trip. By my final night I was taken back by how the Parisian youth, elite and elderly stuck by one another in their silent stand against extremism, simply by congregating, lighting candles and speaking only in thoughts.

My personal experience of the Charlie Hebdo attacks didn’t frighten me or give me reason to develop newfound Islamophobic beliefs. It just reminded me that we, the youth – the ones who mock society and make jokes concerning one another – are one voice, and this voice will never be silenced. Through the medium of recorded music, DIY zines, magazines, books and physical speech, we are free, and our mouths, pens and keyboards won’t fall silent.

Dedicated to those whose lives were lost whilst working and those who are suffering great losses when I was sleeping on Boulevard Voltaire on 7 January 2015.

“What I’m about to say might be a bit pompous, but I’d prefer to die standing than live on my knees.”
Stéphane Charbonnier – Editor / Chief Cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo
1967- 2015

Cameron Broadhurst