It was June 29, 2007 and I was right in the middle of a one-month vacation in London. This was my first time in the United Kingdom and after 4 weeks in Birmingham I was ready to get out and experience all that the capital had to offer. I spent the evening listening to punk bands at a club called Barfly, then decided to walk back towards Trafalgar Square to catch a night bus out to Bethnal Green to my hostel. My path led me right into the Haymarket District where I had eaten a very gourmet version of Fish & Chips earlier in the evening. After a long bus ride I was finally sitting in my tiny room when I decided to check some e-mails.
That's when everything changed.
The Night Is Dark And Full of Terror
The newshound in me went straight to CNN where the top headline read "Bomb Found in London". I couldn't believe what I was reading. Just 15 minutes after I walked through the Haymarket District a car bomb was found and defused outside of the Tiger Tiger nightclub. A Google map search showed that I had walked right past where the car full of petrol and nails was found. The alley where it was parked was still fresh in my mind.
My body went numb. I read reports of how many people would have died if it had detonated. I was in one of the worlds largest cities, by myself and scared.
My hostel was in Hackney, East London. I watched TV for a while before I decided it was time to venture back out into the city. I hopped the tube and within minutes emerged at Oxford Circus. A typical London fog had taken over the day with a steady mist of rain falling. It was Pride weekend in London and there were lots of people dressed brightly, slowly filling the streets. I had never seen the city so quiet, especially right before a big parade day.
A City Asleep
People just shuffled along with shocked looks on their faces, staying close to friends and huddled under umbrellas. A haze of sadness and sorrow hung in the air. No bomb had gone off. No lives were lost during the incident, but it seemed the people of London had once again lost their innocence. Anguish was painted on their faces as clear as the rainbow flags on every street corner.
After a couple of hours of walking I finally pieced together the courage to head back towards Haymarket to see if I could find where the car was. Sure enough, I had walked directly past it. I can't really explain the feeling that came over me when I realized that if something had actually happened the night before, I very much could have been right in the midst of it. Mortality is not something I think about much, but that day it was the only thing in my head. I wanted to call my parents and tell them I loved them. Suddenly my choices over the past year felt stupid and trivial.
The rest of the day was pretty surreal and sedate. I shopped a little bit and then headed back and watched Big Brother with some of the other students at the hostel. Still, I couldn't shake this feeling that the city had changed somehow, suddenly and overnight.
Then the morning came.
Pride Changes Everything
The next morning I made my way up by the Houses of Parliament. Large crowds had formed for the Pride London parade. Just as suddenly as the city had slipped into its gloom, it shed it's coat for a sunny summer day of optimism and hope. There was no trace of the sorrow and angst from the day before. It's as if London was saying "You can't hurt me, you can't bring me down."
I left some of my innocence in Haymarket that day, but found hope amid a group of smiling revelers in the streets on a beautiful day after. London moves on.