I share a special bond with my eldest nephew. On the night he was born, ten thousand miles away in Malaysia, I was undergoing lifesaving surgery in London. His birth was not an easy one either and I remember hoping, as we were both in our respective operating theatres, that we would live to meet each other. Of course we both did but for the three ensuing years, still had not met each other. All that time, I only had his pictures, his voice greetings, his short videos but it was enough for me know I would love this little guy to bits. I even had a nickname for him, Labu, which I took from a famous old Malay comedy.
When my brother told me he was visiting London and was bringing Labu along, I was duly excited. I even made sure that the gifts I had gotten for him and Labi (my other nephew who was born a few months after Labu and got his nickname from the same movie) were the right ones. As a result, I had two large boxes to carry with me. There was no way I could take the Tube with such a load so I decided to save myself the trouble and take a cab. How could I know there would be a terrorist attack that very afternoon….
I remember asking myself as I got into the cab, why was I not super excited? On the other hand, I was feeling a little sombre. Being the existentialist that I tried to be, I guessed that it was perhaps I was a little sad that Labu was now about to become real and all the picture of him I had built in my mind may turn out to be disappointing. He could just be another kid.
The ride was uneventful until we got past Tower Bridge and into the long Upper Thames street which is literally right next to the river. As we got deeper and deeper into the city, traffic was slowing down. This came as no surprise given that it was London and traffic was never very smooth at any given time. The driver had irritatingly decided to have the radio on. I would have preferred it if we could travel in silence as I wanted to mentally prepare myself to meet Labu. I know, I know, it sounds very corny but there it was.
It took me a while to really feel the shock of the news. Perhaps because my thoughts were adrift to Labu, the news did not really hit me until we were actually coming close to Westminster Bridge itself where the terrorist attack took place. It was amazing how normalcy changed into an emergency in literally seconds. And there was simply no way to escape. Traffic was bumper to bumper and would be so for a few hours. The mundaneness of everyday life for most people was snatched away.
The cab driver, who had up till then been relatively silent, was trying to placate me or perhaps himself, that it was no terrorist attack. He was a Bangladeshi who had come to the UK to earn a better life. He worked twelve to fourteen hour shifts, I later found out and had children to care for. After both the 7/7 attacks in 2005 and the Woolwich murder four years ago, he had to take some hurtful racist jibes from a few customers. I felt bad for him. While I was relatively safe from such people, he was on the frontlines, as it were. We both look the type too. Asians and we were both Muslim although that won’t matter with racists. If you look the part, that’s good enough for them.
And what of the victims? They had come for a little holiday. Little did they expect car to swerve onto the sidewalk and mow them down in a callous fashion. And what of PC Keith Palmer, the policeman who was stabbed and killed? He was probably thinking of going home to his wife and kids for a nice dinner. He was certainly not expecting never to see them again. My deepest sympathies for all the victims. Peace be with you all.
I eventually did get to meet Labu albeit a few hours late. We had a lovely evening and I was amazed at how easily he took to me. There was no unfamiliarity, no awkward silence. He told me all about his toys and we just played, as would an uncle and his nephew. At the end of the evening, he was fast asleep in my arms as if he had known me all life. He did not know of the terrorist attack and I hoped his innocence would last for as long as possible. The world is just too draining at times.
As for the Westminster terrorist, he worked alone as far as we know at the moment but be assured there are more – many more – like him. Five lives were lost and many more injured and I am quite sure the distance between humanity grew even more. More suspicions will be raised when people who look different are around you. These terrorists do not care about that. They will not rest until humanity is set ablaze.