Excerpt: Up Close And Personal

All German troops could use the Metro for free. Ridership also went up because French cars had to be turned in to the Germans. Ordinary Parisians had a choice only between walking, bicycling, or taking the Metro. Cars became very crowded.

At the Concorde metro stop, several German officers waited along with me, but the first class car was already very full. One officer squeezed into a second class car ahead of me. As the train pulled away, he pressed up against a woman with several large packages holding the hand of a little boy. She looked highly uncomfortable and kept her face turned downward toward her son. As the car lurched, she dropped one of her packages.

With some difficulty, the officer picked it up and handed it back to her.  She took it so that she had her finger under the parcel’s string and placed it between her and the officer.

Then the German patted her son’s head. “Ja, ja, I have one just like him at home.”

The drama played out before me. Like everyone, I could not move, but I could watch and listen. The woman looked away, but she could not get away from the amiable, polite person whom she loathed and feared. She smiled weakly and looked away. Breaking eye contact was feeble though, since she was as far from the officer as a movie star in a closeup with her co-star, poised for a passionate kiss.

The train screeched to a stop at the Tuileries stop and the woman pressed out with her son and her packages, as the officer tipped his cap. As though making room for more new passengers, I pushed him back. It was the only gallantry to an entering woman I could exhibit. In close contact with the officer in the overheated car, I saw him wriggle his nose as the stable odors from my job wafted toward him. He got off at Palais Royale, the next stop. I suspected it was not his original destination—as I suspected the package-laden woman and child were not planning to get off at Tuileries, in the middle of a snowy park.