Seven years ago today was about six weeks after I moved to London. I had just finished the taught part of my masters course and I was working in a City law firm while I wrote the dissertation that would turn my achievement into an MSc.
I moved to London from Glasgow. Before that I’d lived in Dundee, Salford, Paris and Castellon since leaving home. With no euphemism intended, I’d been around. Seven years ago today, I was new to London, living in Whitechapel, near the Royal London, and starting a new career that I already knew I loved.
Seven years ago today my mum and sister were on holiday in the Highlands and my dad was in a hotel in Heathrow, flying in or flying out, I don’t remember. We were supposed to have dinner that night, he was going to call me to make a plan.
I left home early that morning, it was warm and I was awake and I thought I’d go and read my book in the quiet office before the day began. So I left early, and got on my bus.
The bus went past Aldgate at about half past eight.
I got to work and I read my book. My colleagues started arriving. We knew nothing of what was going on, most of us having arrived at the office before there was anything to know, or having been in the area of Holborn by that time, and therefore not in the direct path of anything. My dad phoned me, I don’t remember when, and said there had been an explosion. There was nothing on the internet yet and we didn’t know it was a terrorist attack. He said there was something about a bus. I remember wondering whether it was a bus or a tube, I remember wishing there wasn’t so much misinformation. I remember it didn’t cross my mind for a while that it was both. And then some.
We spent the day half working half finding out bits and pieces from the internet, from friends, from people. I couldn’t get through to my mum or sister on the phone to let them know I was OK. I was terrified they would think I wasn’t OK. I hoped they hadn’t yet heard, in a croft in the approximate middle of nowhere, that there was anything that might have made me not OK.
At the end of the day I walked home. It was like the opposite of 28 Days Later (which I hadn’t seen yet, incidentally), a mass exodus, people setting off to walk miles and miles, some people getting on boats to commute home. As a newcomer to London, born and raised inland, that seemed very odd. But we were all walking home because someome had blown up the transport system, which was odder.
I don’t remember much else about that day. I don’t remember getting home, I don’t remember what I ate, or what time I went to bed. Seven years have faded most of the memories.
Seven years ago next week a friend stayed at mine because he had something to do down in the London end of the country. The buses were running again but not reliably so I went to see him off, to avoid him getting stranded should there be a diversion or a connection not running or anything.
Seven years ago next week I saw walls and bus shelters covered in missing persons fliers. Bits of paper, faded photocopies of photographs of friends and family members. At that point they hadn’t yet identified all the victims, living or dead, and people were living in limbo, waiting to know. I looked at all the faces, all the pleas, and I wished I’d seen someone, but nobody was familiar.
I’ve never felt so awful, so empty and hollow and useless and hopeless, at not recognising a face on a poster.
Seven years ago in a month or so from now I saw a documentary about the events of seven years ago today. I saw things I hadn’t seen before when I was locked up safe in my office behind bomb-proof windows, just in case. I saw footage of helicopters bringing people to the Royal London. I looked out of my bedroom window and saw a helicopter land at the Royal London, and I broke, and I wept.
I am one of the luckiest people affected by the events of seven years ago today, because the only direct effect on me was that I had to walk home.
Five days ago I watched a documentary in which people who were directly affected, or affected by the loss or injury of a loved one, or affected by attending the scene and having to make decisions about the rescue, spoke to camera about seven years ago today, seven years ago yesterday, the past seven years.
I watched these people speak and I thought, they’re superheroes. Every one of them. Those hurt, those left without one they loved, those forced to make hard decisions, they’re just people, but they’re superheroes. I wonder if I had been involved, if I would have been a superhero too. That’s a stupid thing to think, a selfish thing. I mean it not in envy, but in genuine wonderment at the power of humans to endure. I pray I never find out. I’m sure the superheroes wish they never had. The power of survival seems an expensive one at the cost in this instance.
The last man who spoke, bravely and through tears, spoke of a woman near him, his age, in his profession, who had not survived. He spoke of coming to terms with his survival with the reassurances of her brother that she had truly enjoyed life, and had she survived she would have continued to do so wherever possible.
I cried as this man expressed guilt for surviving. I cried as he implied that he had considered whether she should have survived instead. I cried because neither of them should have had an eventful day that day, and the fact that they did was due to the actions of strangers. I cried because “there but for the grace of God” became “there but for the incompetence of hatred and flukes of physics and train carriage design”.
Seven years ago today I had to walk home.
And today, with gratitude that that’s all that happened to me seven years ago today, with regret for the awful things that happened to others seven years ago today, and in awe of the people who were affected and still now walk and talk and work and live and love and swim and read and commute and laugh and inspire, I will cry.
Addendum: this is the documentary I watched, it is available on iPlayer until 9th July and if you’ve any interest in the subject, and no aversion to strong emotional responses, i suggest you watch it too.