What to say? This is Tottenham Court Road, one of London's busiest streets, at around 12:30 p.m. on July 7, 2005. As word of the attacks started to spread across London, more and more streets became virtually deserted, like this. Everyone hunkered down in offices and homes, waiting for news , expecting the worst, wondering if more attacks were coming.
I didn't actually know what was going on until relatively late yesterday morning. I am staying at Edy's place at Ladbroke Grove, which is on the Hammersmith and City Line. I was going to go with him to work, near Tottenham Court Road, so I could walk to Russell Square to close my bank accounts, as I'm leaving on Sunday. I got lazy though, and thought I'd take the Tube into town later (Taking the Hammersmith and City line, changing at Edgeware Road to the Circle and District line, passing through Liverpool Street, Aldgate and Tower Hill on my way to Temple, and the LSE) and went back to sleep. I woke up to the phone ringing in the living room and Edy saying, "Dani, Dani, Dani, wake up" on the answering machine. "That's weird," I thought. "Why wouldn't he phone my mobile?" It was sitting right beside me on the pillow. I tried to dial his number but my mobile wasn't working. I padded into the living room and clicked on MSN. Edy's name was "Stiamo bene-we are all fine." Then I really got confused. Edy told me to turn on the TV, that the city had been attacked.
I sat with my eyes glued to the television. The simultaneous attacks had created such chaos that no one was really sure where the bombs had gone off. Walking wounded were coming up out of the Tube at stations at either end of the explosions, so when I woke up, the BBC was reporting that Liverpool Street, Aldgate, Moorgate, Old Street, Russell Square, Edgeware Road and Leicester Square Tube stations had been attacked, and that the bus had just blown up on Woburn Place. Cell phones weren't working for civilians as they were afraid a passenger answering a call at another station might ignite any explosives hidden there. They were reporting 90 dead at Aldgate Station (a relatively small, "lazy" station) near my place, in East London) alone. More attacks were predicted.
Of course, I was beside myself. None of the surprise or shock of 9/11, but the absolute horror, helplessness and disgust I felt was overwhelming. Of course, it could have been me. My planned Tube ride would have taken me through all of the stations that were attacked. But it wasn't me, and that wasn't what I was most upset about: I was most upset that someone had dared to FUCK WITH MY TOWN, to hurt people who honestly have no choice but to get on that bus or Tube to go to work everyday (and pay a handsome price to do so), and have their safety violated in such an awful way. We all knew, living here, that the threat of an attack was there...but the Tube, despite all proclamations of security and safety, is an extremely vulnerable place, with so many people and packages travelling every day, that I, as a daily passenger, chose not to believe (for my own sanity), that terrorists would choose such an easy target. Packed rush-hour Tube carriages? It's like shooting fish in a barrel. Which makes these attacks even more contemptible.
I was worried that friends near these Tube stations had been caught. I was worried that Ladbroke Grove station, a 3 minute walk down the road from where I was sitting, might be next. I could already hear sirens beginning to wail across the city.
Through some miracle, none of my classmates or friends were caught in attacks. Edy was a little too close to the bus explosion for comfort, but he is safe. The bus exploded in front of the United World College headquarters in Tavistock Square (UWC is the parent organization of Pearson College), but word quickly came that all staff were present and accounted for there. Soon, we found out that there had been only 4 explosions, not the 7-8 earlier reported. Several "missteps" happened in local coverage: a bomb was reported in Victoria Station; it turned out the station had just been closed due to a bomb threat. Two more bus explosions were reported. It was reported that Heathrow Terminal 3 had been evacuated because of an attack, but actually all flights were operating normally. Then the personal accounts of friends and friends of friends started to come in: a friend of a colleague of Edy's had stepped onto the bus in Tavistock Square only to have it blow up in her face; she reported bodies flying from the top deck. Another friend called in to Edy's office to say he had watched a suicide bomber be arrested at Wandsworth Station. Another classmate sent an email; she had been on the bus-behind-the- bus and witnessed some terrible injuries. While no outlets were reporting casualty or fatality counts, the eyewitness survivor accounts on all channels described scenes that suggested people had died, and that many, many were injured. While the news was "better than expected" in terms of the numbers of attacks, it was clear that this was going to affect the lives of thousands of people.
It's 7:50 a.m. now, the Morning After. The streets here in Notting Hill are relatively quiet; the Met has asked people to think hard about whether they need to travel in to Central London today. I thank God I'm at Edy's right now, I'm in the thick o' things, but not as much as if I had been at home at Butlers' Wharf, right in the middle of Zone 1 chaos. I am curious about what is happening in the hot zones, but not so curious that I actually want to see. The big question is, what happens today? What do I do today? Do I take the Tube into town, as planned yesterday, and close my bank accounts? I am seriously considering walking to the bank, as I'm not sure I want to get on a train or bus today, although I know that is letting the terrorists win if I let it change the way I live. But my anxiety at this time is a little too great to be so defiant. It'll only take 2 hours or so to get there on foot. I know that by the time I arrive home in Canada on Sunday, London will have begrudgingly returned to normal, out of necessity and pure grit. But today...today, I can't feel normal.
My final word: the people who did this are sick. Really. If they are indeed Muslim extremists, they killed their own people; Edgeware Road and Aldgate East are stations in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. These people aren't fighting against the West, they are killing without discrimination. I only hope that our leaders meeting at Gleneagles can respond with calm, will fairly prosecute those attackers they hunt down using the justice systems in place, and will use this as an opportunity to build trust and equity among cultures and nations rather than to continue aggression, and will not use their hurt and anger as an excuse for more war.