Happy Summer Solstice. Time to write something a little less mysterious.
As the years pass by I’m believing more and more in Vivaldi’s depiction of summer, and becoming less ashamed of enjoying the clichés. London was at a violent temperature yesterday – 34.C. Mosquitos have already made a dance floor of my legs: clusters of mini gunshots along my calves and thighs. Damn these hungry, inebriated beasts. I am forced to douse myself with fēng yóu jīng and sprinkle it on my mattress. I leave the tiny bottle open on my bedside table; hopefully the fumes of magic, anti-demon potion will keep the evil spirits away.
Each day we wake up as if we’ve been wearing thermals in bed. We are hot from the air and the weight of time, then we cover ourselves against the ammunition of the sun. Hot hot hot. Layers and layers of chain mail.
In the Four Seasons, Vivaldi writes of a summer that rouses our blood and our propensity for violence. Violence and conflict, like the friction of two sticks, rub sparks, make fires. That much we have seen in London throughout June. From terrorists mowing people down on pavements, hitting worshippers at mosque, to the fires of nightmares; not to mention the news that is overshadowed by the blazing headlines and the offences that never get reported by the public…
I was out in town the night of the London Bridge attacks, three bridges east from the murder scene. To think it was just three months ago when her sister, Westminster, had the same misfortune. Gordon’s Wine Bar had already called last orders and we moved to sip our wine on Embankment Bridge. As we swayed and smiled like trees, the news exploded on-screen at nine hundred thousand degrees. I’m getting texts from my flatmate and classmates, my mother asking me where I am: Are you okay?! Please please tell me you’re in bed. And I’m thinking no mama, I’m three bridges away; three bridges away, not dead.
We saw the sirens running south in a line to get there in time for the stolen lives. I lived in London Bridge / Borough two years ago; our house was just off the high street, five minutes walk from both stations. It could have been me if I’d stayed in that house on Pilgrimage Street, walked down the road to catch the tube one night: dead at the tender age of nineteen.
There I was spinning in this epiphany: how close everything is; how lucky I am. It was all the more disturbing when I recalled a conversation I’d had earlier that day with a security guard from the Courtauld Gallery. We were both on coffee break, and we started with the simple hellos, who are yous and where are you froms. When we reached the topic of travel, he started to talk of the East as being a no-go zone. With all the political conflict and war happening he wouldn’t dare book a ticket for that place. And you know these terrorist attacks, it’s just mainly Muslims isn’t it? You never know when it’s gonna happen.
At this point I began to feel deeply uncomfortable; it was almost painful to hear the disdain and fear in his voice. I knew he wouldn’t have said this if I were a brown-skinned woman or dressed as a muslim. I can’t quite remember what I replied; a few counter-arguments, awkward silences… I should have done more, been more forceful; persuaded him to be wary of making assumptions and judging from appearances. But, whilst I am strong-willed and intolerant of ignorance, at heart I am not very confrontational or argumentative. And it is in conversations like these where I see this trait as fault and not virtue.
Then, crash, bang. A terrorist attack that very evening. His words echoed in my head like mantra. Mainly muslims, you never know when it’s gonna happen. Mainly muslims, you never know when it’s gonna happen. Mainly muslims, you never know when it’s gonna happen. Mainly muslims, you never know when it’s gonna happen. I’m thinking STOP it, STOP it, it’s NOT true, it’s NOT true, even though it’s all in the news. Not that I deny that Islamist terrorists were behind the attack; I’m just sad and frustrated that we have another attack that will fuel the restricted, negative views of that security guard. Of all the other people in the world, who look at this crisis through a simplistic lens, vilifying an entire group who have no intention to murder.
Be careful, my granny tells me, Europe is not safe anymore. Don’t go to crowded areas. Another precaution that is slowly becoming engrained in my system; another shield a young woman is told to hold up as she walks alone at night. But the ordinary person will never know whether they will be victim to an attack. Human creativity is the seed of civilisation, but is also a tool that can destroy it. There are as many humans in the world that can do 1+1 = 2 as there are brains to orchestrate murder (or commit manslaughter); and as many ways to murder as that which the brain can imagine doing.
Maya Angelou ends her poem, The Lesson, with: I keep on dying because I love to live. It’s a mantra for times of fear, insecurity and uncertainty. Everyday we are dying. Each step we take, safe or dangerous, leads us in the same direction; the direction in which time is taking us. The yardstick of youth has snapped. In floods the wild world, the horrors as well as its wonders. I am so ready to live.