Wednesday, 4 October 2017

In Memory of the “Love Locks” of Pont des Arts Bridge

He heard the news over the radio days ago. Since then, a series of involuntary actions led him to a bunch of padlocks on the barrier rails of the popular Pont des Arts bridge in Paris. The barrier rails on both sides were filled with padlocks of different shapes, colours and sizes that reflected the dawning sunlight. He stopped and  stared at a particular one. The particular one that set him in motion when he heard over the radio that the padlocks would be removed by government maintenance officers.

About twenty five years ago, he and a young lady he was in love with played around the narrow streets of Paris like toddlers in kindergarten. They chased each other from street to street and drank from pub to pub. No one could separate them. It was true love indeed. One day, they bought a padlock and swore never to leave each other until they were married someday. They placed the padlock on the fence and locked it. An inscription on it read “together always.” The dream of marriage ended the day he went over to her house and found out that her family had vanished.
Her parents were illegal immigrants from Africa, and they were suddenly deported. Since that day about twenty five years ago, his life which seemed to be blossoming beautifully, took a turn for the worst. His life lost meaning. He had no motivation to strive for the best from life anymore and was contented with daily handouts for meals from menial jobs. His hatred for life since the deportation of the love of his life had become a bad habit he couldn’t kick. He became a loner, and moved to another town after being fed up with having to stop on that bridge every day to stare at a piece of padlock that increased his misery. However, after that radio announcement, he wasn’t going to allow the government beat him twice.

“Hey man, you have to leave now. We are about to start work,” said a gentleman in a work garment and a hardhat. The man he spoke to didn’t budge. Backing the maintenance officer, his sight was glued at that particular padlock. “Who is the guy standing on the bridge?” asked another maintenance officer who just arrived from the truck. “I don’t know. I told him he had to leave but he just stood there,” said the first maintenance worker. More maintenance officers began to arrive from the truck with tools and bags of equipment. Work was about to begin. A second maintenance officer walked over to the man on the bridge and stood beside him. “You missing somebody?” he asked carelessly. The man on the bridge raised his head a bit and dropped it without answering. “We are about to start work buddy. I am afraid you have to leave,” said the maintenance officer, as he patted the man on the shoulder and walked back to his colleagues. The man’s rage heightened but he did not move an inch.

When the supervisor arrived, he also asked who the man on the bridge was. He was briefed and thought little of it. Maybe some guy paying his last respects to a loved one, he thought. Well, he wasn’t too far off. Except that, this wasn’t about last respects. When they were all set, the drama started. The supervisor went over and held the man’s arm and said “it is enough buddy. We are about to start work here.” The man turned around and pushed the supervisor suddenly and yelled out, “Let no man come near me. No one is bringing down these padlocks today.” The supervisor fell flat on his back but got up quickly in shock. His colleagues rushed up to him and wanted to assault the man on his behalf. The supervisor stopped them. “Call the police. This is no matter for us,” said the supervisor, as he called his troops back to a muster point. At this time, the man was facing them frontally.

A police patrol car soon pulled over. A chubbily dressed officer approached the maintenance officers and was briefed about the prior events. He immediately called for backup and walked slowly towards the man with his hands clutching his pistol hold. “What is your business here young man? How can we help you?” asked the police officer. The man stared on without a word. “Can you please state why you stopped these men from doing their job?” asked the police officer again. The man turned and faced the padlock again abandoning the police officer to his back. The police officer thought it wise to wait for backup at that point and told the maintenance crew to calm down and be patient. Not long after, two more police cars arrived. A small chat preceded another approach to the man on the bridge with Taser guns. When the officers got too close, the man had a surprise of his own; a real gun. He pointed it on his own head and threatened to shoot if the officers moved another inch. His voice was full of emotion and determination. He shouted on the officers to back off. “All I want, is to see Anabelle again,” the man yelled out through heavy breaths of fury. Suddenly, he fell to his knees and cried intensely. Emotions bottled up for years were unearthed like the eruption of dormant volcano. Though intense, he cried only for a moment. He soon got back up with his gun to his head. He used the other hand to clean the tears and catarrh which had filled his face. The confusion was obvious. The police officers and the maintenance officers looked at themselves with awe. The question on everyone’s mind was, “who was Anabelle?” No one dared to ask.   

A crowd began to gather as the morning grew older. The bridge was cordoned off at both ends and more police officers assembled. The press became involved and this small local incident became a viral live breaking news. He was on all the local television stations in Paris and neighbouring towns. His demand was clear and simple. “All I want, is to see Anabelle again,” he yelled continuously. In the mist of the chaos unfolding around the bridge, one female reporter was emboldened.  She knew this was a story of love and wanted to understand it. With one step in front of another, she walked slowly over to the man. The police did not know whether to stop her or not until she was far gone. She asked for Anabelle’s full name and address. Through tears and sobs, the man told the reporter Anabelle’s last name and how her family was deported years ago. He also told her the address of the house where they had lived. Encouraged by the information, the reporter jogged back to the police. A group of reporters gathered around her and the police. The female reporter relayed the information she just got, and everyone began to dig for information about Anabelle. Meanwhile, on the bridge, a man still held a gun to his head staring at a padlock with the inscription “together always.”

Hours passed. Phone lines rang continuously in so many offices as requests for information about Anabelle’s family continued to travel. This man had gained a lot of attention. The maintenance officers became spectators and chatted around a service truck. Meanwhile, in a pub somewhere in Paris, the breaking news had become a topic of discussion. Customers interpreted the news differently sparking debates about the man’s sanity and mental state. Two female bartenders went about their services dutifully as more customers came in and joined the debate. While one of the female bartenders paid very close attention to the proceedings on television, the other female bartender joined in lashing the man on the bridge with insulting words whenever the pair were together. Not long after, they had a little break and watched the television from behind the bar table. Again, the second bartender began to tongue lash the man on the bridge. She called him all sorts of names and used derogative phrases to describe the situation. Unknown to her, every word from her mouth was like a lash from a horse whip on her colleague’s back but she won’t stop. She went on and on about it with disgust and hate. The hateful words from her reached tipping point, and Anabelle had heard enough. Anabelle looked at her with a sad smile and said “stop it.” But her colleague would not stop. She continued blabbing until Anabelle slapped her. The sound of the slap quieted the room.  Everyone turned and stared at Anabelle including her colleague who still had her hands on her cheek. The slap was a hot one.

“I am Anabelle!” she shouted. “His name is Jean, and he is not mad,” she continued. “We loved each other so much and promised to get married. We had a neighbour who didn’t like the fact that Jean was dating a black woman. He reported my parents to immigration officers because they were illegal immigrants who had confided in him. We were deported immediately, and I never got a chance to tell Jean goodbye. It was a painful separation. Anabelle turned to her colleague who was still staring at her with her mouth open and her hands on her cheek and said, “I am sorry. I just wanted you to stop talking.” Thereafter, she wiped her eyes with the cleaning towel and threw it down. She couldn’t stop sobbing. She removed the apron tied around her waist. Her colleague hugged her very tightly and whispered into her ears, “go and get your man before he gets hurt.” Anabelle thanked her and made her way to the front door of the pub. The pub was still quiet with everyone expressing shock. “I will take you” offered one gentleman who stood up involuntarily. They both went outside and got on his motorcycle. The man kicked the bike and sped off. As they meandered through the narrow streets of Paris, the buzzing bike attracted people’s attention. Already saturated with the breaking news on television, people just knew Anabelle had been found.
The apprehensive ambience around the bridge began to alleviate, as chatter from the news of an approaching motorcycle with a black girl on it filtered through the crowd. The noise of excitement got to the man on the bridge, and he too began to look around rapidly with panic to understand what was happening. His gun was still pointed to his head. The motorcycle soon arrived the left side of the bridge and Anabelle alighted and removed her helmet. She climbed the bridge slowly with mixed emotions. Anabelle soon emerged from the horizon, and as she grew taller with closing distance, he knew that was his angel. He dropped to his knees and shouted “Anabelle!” with his arms stretched out wide. As tears streamed freely from his eyes, he started moving fast towards her on his knees. She ran to him and flew at him from a distance. They clasped in an embrace so tight and fell on the bridge. The jeers from the crowd was deafening. As the drama on the bridge climaxed, the police officer in charge of scene wondered why the man had to take such risk to find Anabelle. Many could not understand it too. Anabelle had returned to Paris many years later because she was born there, but he had no way of locating Jean who had relocated from Paris. Jean did not mind the handcuffs. In the end, he was grateful he had found Anabelle, and he didn’t have to kill himself. His life could now begin anew.