The lonely countdown.

A wave of exhilaration stirred the crowd below the Arc. It was time. Suddenly, and as though they had rehearsed this moment for weeks, they raised their plastic cups, set up their cameras and shouted from the top of their lungs.
Ten.
Above them and amongst the privileged group of four standing proud on top of the Arc de Triomphe, stood a young girl in her twenties. Her eyes were set upon the Eiffel Tower just like everyone else’s, but her look harboured no excitement, no joy or pride and above all, no sense of belonging.
Nine.
Her bare fingers were wrapped around the cold steel of the banister, clutching the bar as though she was grasping for her life.
Eight.
She had imagined what it could feel like for years. Belonging. Such a powerful word, bearing the weight of such a powerful emotion that deep down in the marrow of her bones, she knew she had never felt before.
Seven.
The crowd was cheering all around and below her and yet, Paris appeared to be still. Muted. Like every sound had been muffled and hidden away. She looked around, pausing on each and every one of the twelve avenues spreading from the Etoile. She was at the heart. But the heart of what?
Six.
Xavier placed his hand on her shoulder and she felt her heart tighten up. The wind on top of the Arc was bitter. She was used to the cold winters and biting winds but it was a bad habit that she longed to break.
Five.
She was born somewhere far away from where she stood, somewhere sunny and bright, in a country she kept seeing in her dreams. Walls and ramparts she kept inventing and images she kept painting in her mind.
Four.
The internet was a funny place. She liked browsing through pictures of her home-town, but often wound up wondering on Google Maps, hovering over the ‘White City’, exploring every street, every inch of coastline, every single line that drew the map of her childhood.
Three.
It was like a game of riddles she could never win, a mystery she longed to elucidate. Where was she born? Which hospital was it? Was it the one near the station? Or the one near the mosque? Or was she born in a home? In her home?
Two.
What was it like to be part of something you chose to be part of? What was it like to belong?
One.
“Are you ready?” Xavier’s voice resounded above the cheering crowd.
She was ready. She had been ready all along, but for something altogether different.
Zero.

*

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