Just before London attack, it was a perfect summer Saturday evening
It is that time of the year when London and Britain are resplendent in warm weather, with iconic locations teeming with tourists and residents out enjoying the glow of summer after months of grim and grey climes – so it was on Saturday evening, until terror struck.
Less than two hours before the terror attack on the London Bridge and Borough Market – among the most popular areas with the young and the old, particularly on a weekend – and less than 2 km away, I was marvelling at the sylvan scenario on the south bank of the Thames.
Walking across the Waterloo Bridge towards Trafalgar Square, I could not help but take another photo of the picture-perfect scene of London Eye on the left and the Big Ben and Houses of Parliament on the right, with the Thames and the summer sky providing the idyll backdrop.
A young singer was strumming the guitar, surrounded by a growing number of people with families; the London Eye was busy; a hijab-wearing woman was selling chocolate-flavoured peanuts; as hundreds of tourists and residents were taking selfies against the picturesque location.
The scene in Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly and Leicester Square was no different – music was in the air with bands and entertainers performing at various points, as a group of young women stopped unsuspecting passers-by and broke into ‘Happy Birthday to you’ in chorus, shooting their surprised reaction on camera, to much mirth.
The scene also reflected London’s polyglot nature: I remember hearing not only East European languages as I made my way through selfies and strangers, but also Konkani, Hindi and Bengali – but not much of English.
The summery Saturday scene was also the perfect contrast to the March 22 terror attack on another bridge on the Thames – the Westminster Bridge – when Khalid Masood drove his car into pedestrians, killing six and injuring many.
Around 10.10 pm local time, another Thames bridge was to became the site of terror on Saturday night, when a white van ploughed into pedestrians and its three occupants went on a stabbing spree, killing six people and injuring nearly 50 – setting off another cycle of responses and unravelling of the script of ‘spirit’, ‘courage’ and ‘cowards’.
There is an added poignancy to Sunday: as London wakes up to Saturday night’s terror, US pop singer Ariana Grande is preparing for a peace concert in Manchester, where 22 people – including children and teenagers – were killed in a suicide bombing at her concert venue on May 22.
After covering the recent terror attacks in Paris, Nice, Brussels, it is clear that the peace, stability and certainties of everyday life long associated with Western Europe faces some challenge.
For many, crossing a bridge across the Thames may no longer be free of distracting thoughts and memories of terror.