Thursday, 23 May 2013

A different pair of shoes

This morning was like all the others recently, oddly cold and grey for this time of year.  But as I stepped out with my children to take them to school, everything was right with me.  The children weren’t too fussy, there had been none of the usual tantrums and everyone, for once, was ready on time for their day.

Work was fine, if a little boring, I made a mental note to keep looking for alternatives but knew I probably wouldn’t.  My husband took the time to text me at lunch to check in with me and this made me smile.  Everyone chatted reasonably amicably in the staff common room and the day rolled on.  I should have savoured the mundane, cuddled up in the day’s normality.

On my way back from school with the children in tow, arguing about who is going to watch what on the TV, I feel the change.  I see the look.  I feel my skin grow cold; surely it couldn’t be happening again?  But yes there it is; another glance sideways as I pass someone briefly looking up from their phone.

When I get home I run to the living room, tearing off my head scarf, gently pushing away the children as they try to grab for the TV remote.  Clumsily I search for the news and there it is, a man shouting, covered in blood, a body lying in the street.  Quickly I manage to pause the screen and usher the complaining children out of the room and somehow find my way to the sofa to resume the horror.

I knew what would happen, but somehow I couldn’t resist looking anyway.  I switch on my phone and start to explore what is hitting Facebook and Twitter; the blame, the anger, the hate.  How could this be happening again?  I had just learned to feel free after the eight long years of the aftermath of 7/7, to begin to believe that my fellow Londoners didn’t automatically mistrust me.

For months after that terrible day I had found myself not looking anyone in the eye, keeping a low profile and trying to eke out a quiet existence with my family.  Some of my friends refused to be cowed by what had happened and bravely met the problem head on, but that just wasn’t me.  Over time, however, our confidence had slowly grown and we started to believe, I know now foolishly, that we had been accepted for who we are.  Now this has come and all those months and years feel like nothing.

What can I do?  People blame me for this horror, that somehow I know these men or that my small local mosque can change the way they think, men who would not dream of even speaking to us.  They hate us too; we’re too Western, too ready to capitulate with the “enemy”, too moderate.  All I can do is be me, raise my family right, obey the laws I live under and work hard.  Isn’t this what everyone else does?

I call my husband and in tears I spill my fears for myself and my children to him.  He tries to comfort me but I know when I step out of my door to take my children to school tomorrow, London will be a very different place… again.

I wrote this little piece of fiction in response to some comments I read on Facebook about what the Muslim community should do to stop the extremists.  I tried to imagine what it would be like to read these comments if I was a Muslim myself.  It would be terribly presumptuous of me to believe I could fully understand what it must be like, but I do think it is important to try and stand in other people's shoes, even for a brief moment.

Please feel free to comment, Louise

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