Stretching from London Bridge down to Forest Hill, Crystal Palace and Lewisham, south east London is a sprawling section of the capital city, rich and full of life. Cultures and communities converge. Delicious food abounds. I love this part of London. It’s my home. When I see the news notifications popping up on my phone on Saturday night, I feel sick. London Bridge is being attacked. Innocent diners, partiers, tourists and theatregoers are fleeing from Borough market, terrified. A pub I had spent many nights in as an undergraduate is being evacuated. People are being ushered down towards Elephant and Castle. I am tucked up in bed, watching events unfold on my phone, powerless to protect those people. A cacophony of sirens whirrs outside our window.
The next day, I hear interviews with bystanders on the radio. People who haven’t slept, who are distraught and haven’t had time to process the tragedy, are being interviewed on national television. Recently, some of those affected by past terror attacks have spoken out about the traumatic impact that intrusive journalists can have. One woman revealed the relentless tactics employed to contact her – hacking social media accounts, calling her parents and turning up at her house. I want the camera crews to leave London in peace. Let these people comfort each other. Let them grieve. Leave them be.
These events are horrific but they are still uncommon. The people who want to commit harm are few, although many voices will try to make you believe otherwise. I feel guilty about being scared and sad on Sunday morning. I wasn’t there at the scene, I tell myself, I don’t have any friends who were injured. I have no right to be upset.
Londoners are tough. We are determined to have a normal Sunday. We go to the pub. We do the laundry. I read on social media that neighbours in my area offered their homes to those fleeing the attack the previous night. The New York Times reports that Britain is ‘reeling’ from the recent terror attacks and a backlash emerges on Twitter as people across the country share mundane details about their Sundays, from taking out the recycling to live-tweeting The Archers omnibus. We are carrying on as normal, they say.
I take the tube on Monday morning, hyperaware that the commuter hour on the Northern line doesn’t feel as busy as usual. I listen more acutely, noticing that no one is talking. No one ever talks on the tube, I remind myself. As I walk home from the station after work, I see a group of women dancing in Burgess Park. I’ve noticed them before with their boombox, dancing together unashamedly, their children hanging around waiting for them. They are brazenly facing the rain, arms raised as if in praise. I love them. I nearly stop to tell them so but I don’t want to interrupt. Instead I watch for a moment, my hair dripping. Then I continue home, rain running down my face.