Ten years ago today… my morning commute to work was disrupted. There was much confusion at Waterloo Station. The tube station was closing, and everyone was milling about near the trains. There were rumours of trouble in multiple parts of the tube network, but no one seemed to understand the disruption.
I hopped on a bus and called an old friend, who I knew had been up all night working on her PhD on nuclear terrorism. I thought she might interpret the news better than I could.
“They’re reporting ‘a power surge,'” she told me as my bus wound through Holborn towards Farringdon. It’s hard to tell what’s actually happening. Be careful just in case.”
I got to work — one of the few who did, it turned out — and was asked to make a list of my team and work out who was still alive. While the sirens raced past our office buildings en route to various hospitals, I made the phone calls. I never want to do that again.
(They were all alive, fortunately. But I counted those endless sirens, thinking of those teams across the capital — and families — who were finding that some of their members weren’t.)
I remember phoning my mother and waking her up. “You’re going to see that there’s something going on in London,” I told her. “I just want you to know, when you see that, that I’m at work and I’m okay.” She blearily thanked me and apparently went straight to watch the news… which was already reporting explosions. I got a somewhat teary voicemail from her a number of hours later — when the phone networks were no longer clogged — thanking me and telling me she loved me.
The City was evacuated in the afternoon, and I headed across London on foot towards friends in South Kensington (since I lived too far away to get back to my home). All the Londoners I encountered had a surreal quality of shock at the events and a heightened, startled awareness of each other… We weren’t just obstacles in each other’s journeys anymore — we talked. We nodded to each other. We shared our worried looks and our stoic laughter. As we all tried to work out how to get home, it felt like we actually saw each other for the first time. We understood we were in it together.
When I got to Hyde Park Corner, a couple of brave TfL bus drivers had picked up their routes — all the more courageous when we didn’t yet know what had happened to cause the explosions, nor whether it was truly finished. I stepped onto a bus and was humbled to see the driver, as confused and stricken as the rest of us, determined to do his part: London was on the move, and he could help us get home. What a gesture of solidarity. I thanked him profusely.
Coincidentally, I found one of the South Ken friends at the back of that bus, and we went on to their flat to make margaritas with his wife. There was lots to talk about that night, and to be grateful for. And to mourn. We’d each experienced it differently, but we’d been through it together — and London is never more amazing than when it finds a reason to pull together.