pain

Terrorism Explained Through The Eyes Of A Child

Illustration by Ismay Ozga

Illustration by Ismay Ozga

 

I was only 10 when the London bombings happened on July 7th 2005.
I was only 10, and I was in London.
I was definitely in London because I remember that day in all its fear and red and orange train tickets like I am still 10, and still in London.
I remember being told about the explosions. I saw pictures, and news broadcasts, and tried to understand my father’s seemingly inadequate explanations. How could he have explained it? There were no explanations.

There are no real explanations for terrorism. No rational ones, except that humans have a very dark and twisted side, and a 10–year-old shouldn’t have had to face that yet. Humans, for the most part, are pretty great when you’re 10.

Now it has been 10 years since I was 10, and you are a 10-year-old. Perhaps a bit taller than I was, learning about how bigger words sound when you play with them in your gap-toothed mouth. The world has ticked a decade off and still a 10-year-old (you) must discover how to spell the word ‘bomb’.

Illustration by sadviolences

Illustration by sadviolences

I was 10, and I knew how to spell the word bomb, but after contemplating its awkwardness and unnecessary consonants, I remember the growing fear in the pit of my solar plexus. I remember being scared that I was about to have a panic attack. I hated having panic attacks in front of strangers. I had a panic attack. I vomited bile, my nose bled blood red into the toilet bowl diluted by salty 10-year-old tears.

In between meals and footsteps and soccer games on the lawn – because life must go on and 10-year-olds must play soccer on the lawn – I remember wondering when we would be bombed. Whether I could hide from a gunman in that closet there. Whether the computer across the room would shield me from shrapnel. I remember wondering if the bombers knew that they were wrong. I remember wondering a lot of things all night long until 10-year-old wondering and panic attack fatigue let me fall asleep.

You, 10-year-old, may be wondering the same. Because weeks ago, after soccer on the lawn, your father tried to explain to you what suicide is. How to stay calm in an emergency. How to live without fear.
The next day, after the terrorist and 10-year-old panic attacks, I remember telling my father that we could not under any circumstances go on a train today. He told me not to be scared. Our train would not get bombed. But yesterday’s train was bombed? But today’s won’t be. But what if it is? But it won’t be, and we will be fine. Everybody is getting back on trains today. Nobody is scared. (I’m scared). Don’t be scared. (You are scared. It is okay to be scared).

I remember approaching the London Eye and searching frantically for small human bodies climbing up the big white poles with backpacks on. I remember not wanting to get on. I got on. I remember sitting in the middle on the bench the entire time, wondering if the glass around me would explode if it was bombed, or if it would just fall to the floor in one big piece. I wondered if the humans around me were the bombers. I wondered if it would be better to be bombed from the left so that we fell into the Thames, or from the right.

You are 10 and you might have looked at the Eiffel tower very differently these last few days. Suddenly where exactly that pointy bit at the top will land when the foundations are shattered is of the utmost importance. Perhaps the books in your Kenyan library suddenly seem like they are dangerous because if the building was bombed they’d surely land on your head and you’d be crushed by knowledge and wisdom and papercuts.

I remember every footstep onto the train back home. Every backpack. Every sweaty palm and worn-out eye. I remember wondering if it would’ve been better if we had taken the bus. Bus bombs seemed less threatening to my 10-year-old risk assessment.

I remember wondering if my cousins were dead, or my great-aunt, or my mother and step-father and tiny baby human brother.

My mother, step-father and tiny baby human brother were on the train behind the train that people died on. They were stopped one station before their station and told to get off. The path to the station in front was blocked by a bombed train. The people that died, had they left home 10 minutes earlier, would have been my mother, step-father and tiny baby human brother. They weren’t those people, but they could’ve been.
They kept their train tickets and stuck them in the middle of our happy holiday scrapbook on a piece of blood red cardboard from the craft shop next to the pet store. I look at it every time I visit them.

You are only 10, and these last few months you have had to wonder what it would be like to live without a friend, without a father. Perhaps you are only 10 and you do not have a mother to wipe the blood from your panic attack nose. You’ve counted the ways you could shield your tiny baby human brother from a bullet out the barrel of an ignorant and bitter, broken man’s machine gun.

You should not have to do that. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry that I cannot hold you, and tell you not to be scared, like my father tried to tell me. Do not be scared (it is okay to be scared).
I am neither 10 nor in London. But someone was 19 and in Paris. Someone was 2 and in Syria. Someone was 7 and thinking about something important in Beirut. Someone was 24 learning something important in Kenya.

Someone is only a child, somewhere in the world. That is where that sentence should end.

Written by Ruby Gill