We arrived in Paris at midday. We’d woken at 4am and hot-footed it through the cold, pre-dawn London streets to make the early Eurostar, and the journey had left us feeling nervy and dried out.
Paris was the city M wanted to visit more than anywhere in the world. We stepped off the train into the great hall of Gare du Nord Station. The high arched roof was made up of squares of black iron and opaque glass that filtered the light into a white glare. I clutched our print-outs from Air B’n’B and Google Maps, and hoped that our giant rucksacks didn’t make us look like easy marks.
We made our way to the station map. The print-out told me which bus I needed to catch, and as I looked for the right exit a girl appeared in front of me. She was young, maybe fourteen or fifteen, with olive skin and dyed-brown hair pulled back in a pony tail. She was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a baggy hoody. She was holding a piece of brown cardboard with a sheet of paper attached to it, upon which was printed a table with three columns with some names scribbled in the first few rows.
‘Sign the petition?’ she said in accented English.
I stared at the paper dumbly.
A large arm shot over my shoulder and grabbed at the piece of cardboard. The girl twisted away and trotted off, grinning in a way that was both playful and corrupt, like it was a game she’d played a thousand times before.
‘Be careful,’ said the security guard.
We found the right exit and headed for our bus.