London Terror

September 15, 2012
She stares at the wreath. Red and blue and white flowers in the shape of a circle with a horizontal bar across. She stands there with her parents and cries. Cries for the dead, fifty-two dead men and women. Cries for the horror of that day, four years before, when something happened.

She yells, “Mommy, mommy! Can we go now?” Brown hair cut short. Vibrant t-shirt, new jeans and sneakers. Bright, happy face. All speak of youth and a serene confidence that the world is a pleasant place. The woman smiles but shakes her head. “We need to wait for your brothers to finish eating.” The girl pouts. “But I’m done, why aren’t they?” Her voice becomes whiney. She is used to getting her way. The mother just motions her to sit; three children give her experience with whines.

Lunch finished, they walk across the square, the one with the columns, to the station. It’s closed. They have to keep moving. The girl wants to know “why?” but her parents have no answers, only suggestions. A train broke down. The rail is being repaired. The station is being cleaned. The girl does not like this but accepts that her parents can give her nothing more.

They walk on. The next station is different. It’s not underground, but above it, and people are streaming out. A crowd, a horde, a mob, her mind supplies. She tugs at her mother’s sleeve. “What’s going on?” She’s upset, she doesn’t like uncertainty. The mother hushes her. She is worried, too. It’s a foreign city, and the deaths are on her mind.

The mother is making breakfast, and Nicole gets the Times. This is understandable, even though her daughter doesn’t usually read the newspaper. J. K. Rowling’s new book is about to come out; she wants to see if there are any new suspicions about Harry Potter. Nicole gasps, and calls her over. The headlines hit her with the force of a shockwave. “50+ Suspected Dead!” “Terrorism Attack on Tube!” “3 Explosions: 2 Trains and a Bus!” She has no explanations to salvage her daughter’s innocence. But, through the next two weeks, she watches her daughter forget. It didn’t happen here in Chester, after all. It can’t happen to them. The whole family thinks it.

The mother asks a policeman. He’s tall, and his black skin forms a sharp contrast with his fluorescent yellow vest. He doesn’t know what’s going on, either. “We think there might have been an attempted murder, but we’re really not sure.” He looks apologetic and directs them to the next station down. Nicole is really worried now. The family arrives at the station. Other people tell the parents, “They’ve closed the whole Tube.” She asks what is going on. Her daddy tells her, “Please be quiet, Nicole. Daddy and Mommy need to think.” She is quiet, but her brow furrows in concentration. Now even she is thinking of the headlines.

They are walking again. They are no longer on the main streets, but going through little one-way avenues. She asks again what is going on. Her mom pulls her back, behind her dad and brothers. “We don’t know what’s going on.” She looks up in shock. Parents know everything. It is a big surprise to discover that her mother doesn’t know something, especially something this important. “Don’t tell your brothers. We don’t want to scare them.” She nods. It is an accepted fact of her life that brothers are more stupid, scare more easily, and are more annoying than anything else. “If you want to help, you can look for a bus or bus stop. That would be a big help to Mommy and Daddy.” She nods again. It’s scary not knowing what is happening, and scarier to think that something bad could be happening, but having something to do helps.
She points out every bus they pass, single- and double-decker. They walk for ages, she thinks. She sees a man talking on his cell phone. He says words that make her listen, words like bomb and terrorists and dead. Her dad stops them, tells them to stay put while he talks to this man. The man is young, younger than her daddy, and wearing a hat. He finishes his phone conversation. Her father asks him if he knows anything about what was going on. The young man says that he does, that he was just talking to a friend who told him what he knew. The girl inches closer. Knowing that she’s supposed to stay put, she is too curious to not listen, hoping to find out what is going on. The young man tells her father that three more bombs were planted, on two trains and a bus. The father comes back, says, “We need to find a bus now.” The girl looks up at him. “How many people are?” She doesn’t say it. Doesn’t say the word that would make it horrifyingly real. Dead. There’s a sense of finality to it. She feels that if she doesn’t say the word, it’s still a story, still an event that happens somewhere else. He still hushes her. He doesn’t want to talk about it either. He is aware, deep down, that it is real, but is frightened by that fact. Doesn’t want it mentioned for fear of scaring the younger two. Nicole is old enough, but he’s not sure about the others. Better to keep quiet. He talks with his wife. Maybe it would be better not to take a bus. Maybe they should take a cab instead.

Nicole is put on cab-watching duty. A cab is found. The passengers get out. The family tries to get in, but is beaten by a single woman. She starts to get in, but stops, half in and half out of the cab. “Where are you going?” She asks the father. “The Tower.” He is brusque, more out of strain than a normal habit of bluntness. She smiles politely. “How lovely! I’m going that direction, too.” He smiles back, not sure where she is going with this. “You can ride in the cab with me. Won’t that be lovely!” She is genuinely enthusiastic. The girl thinks this is a wonderful idea. The parents aren’t so sure. Her mother speaks up. “We wouldn’t want to impose on you. We’ll be fine.” The girl wants to know why her parents are refusing something so kind. The woman smiles again. “It would be my pleasure.” She nods firmly, and steps back to allow the family into the cab. The parents give in. Safety and comfort is taken over politeness, today.

In the cab the radio blares. The word “bomb” is used a lot. As are “abandoned backpacks,” “terrorists,” and “no confirmed casualties.” The girl relaxes. A brother is listening, too. He asks questions that the parents have no answers to. The girl pays no attention. She has no answers, but also no questions. She knows enough. That it failed. Still her mind produces what ifs. What if they had been thirty minutes faster and it had worked? Then there would be no need for a cab anymore. Or anything anymore.

Things change. And things remain the same. The family is in the station again, where four years before, one worked. But the girl will never again believe that “it won’t happen to us” is safe. Because it can happen to them. It might not. But it could. And that is what she knows and lives with. Because fear arrives anytime the train stops in the subway. If she sees abandoned luggage. If there is a mob of people exiting a station. Because it can happen to them.





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