3 years on: A recollection of the Manchester Arena bombing
That morning, my mum woke me up in the hazy, pale light. She hung over my bed, a preoccupied look on her face. I fought to keep my eyes open, frustrated by the shrill sound of birdsong and the overall weight of gravity that fought against my rising body: I had never been a morning person. Before I could speak, before I could ask why she had woken me or what time in the morning it was, her words had shattered the stillness in the air.
“They’ve bombed us.” She said. “Manchester has been bombed.”
Suddenly I was wide awake, my head spinning, my sense of shock manifesting in my wordlessness. I found myself sitting at the dining room table. The room was still draped with a cellophane birthday banner and scattered with gradually deflating balloons. I had celebrated my seventeenth birthday just two days before, not that it mattered now. I was soon realising that it was a trivial celebration in a world full of problems.
I let my bowl of cereal grow stagnant, cornflakes drifting aimlessly across a pond of milk. This event had almost been expected, I thought morosely. 2017 was a year that has since been referred to as the ‘year of terror’ by some newspapers. During that year, the headlines seemed to be gripped by stories of innocent civilians being mercilessly slaughtered in various attacks across the cities of the world. Just two months prior to the Manchester arena attack, four pedestrians had been killed and dozens more injured after being ploughed down by a higher car on Westminster bridge. On the 20th of April, three French National Police officers had been shot by a man on the Champs Elysees in Paris: a city already on high alert after previous attacks.
In light of these headlines, the world had come to feel like a tense and fearful place. Worryingly, the ‘us and them’ attitude which had been sewn into the communities of the North for so long was becoming more pronounced. Just two years later Tommy Robinson, an Islamophobic fascist, came to visit my hometown, attempting to gain support in the deprived, near-segregated towns of the North West.
I browsed my various social media accounts, which erupted with headlines describing the attack and emotional posts from friends, their pages pasted with images of the worker bee. I read the articles hurriedly- Ariana Grande, an attack that targeted children, shrapnel, a city in mourning, many kids still missing. My mind felt frazzled, unable to comprehend it all. And then, a few posts down from another image of the Manchester bee:
‘Kate can’t find her sister- if anyone has any information then please contact her.’
An uneasy feeling crept in.
I had known Kate for many years. She’d always had a rebellious streak that I envied and was the first of us to smoke cigarettes and have sex. She had a tongue piercing that her mother didn’t know about and hair that was dyed jet black.
Kate’s sister? I didn’t want to believe it. Things like this didn’t happen to us, they didn’t happen to people that I knew. Kids didn’t die in bombings; kids didn’t usually die at all. Suddenly, I felt my home grow unfamiliar and distant.
That day, at work, news of the bombing and various sensationalised opinions were murmured by customers and waitresses alike. The air was heavy and unnaturally still. Somewhere in the midst of my shift, I heard that Kate’s sister had died, having been killed by shrapnel in the explosion. There would be a memorial that evening, beneath the grand clock tower of Whitehead Garden. I knew I had to go. The whole city, and every group of people within it, had been united by a stunned sense of grief. Children were dead. Our children.
The evening came and I stood in the amber glow of the setting sun, part of a sea of people from all walks of life. The crowd was quiet and at peace as different people spoke from the steps of the clock tower- a priest, a rabbi, an imam . Hundreds of pink balloons were released into the cloudless sky, some becoming ensnared within the boughs of blooming blossom trees, whilst the stairs of the clock tower quickly became layered with fresh bouquets, teddy bears and photos of Kate’s smiling younger sister.
Then, Kate’s mother came to the podium, her eyes still raw from tears of grief. She looked solemn, lost. Perhaps everything within her was screaming that her daughter couldn’t have died in a terrorist attack, that this couldn’t have been true. Her daughter was meant to grow up and become a dancer or a singer, just as she had always dreamed. This wasn’t meant to be the fate of any child, anywhere in the world.
When Kate’s mother finally spoke into the gentle, evening air of May, she spoke to bridge a divide that had existed for decades. She begged for peace, she called for the crowds of people to not let her daughter’s death fuel revenge and even more hatred. She was exhausted and weary, yet her voice was still able to move the masses.
I soon realised that Kate’s mother had done something noble that evening. In the face of losing her child, the worst type of fear, she had done something brave. She stood on that podium and called for people to love when her daughter had been killed out of hatred.
As she stepped down from the podium, I applauded whole heartedly, on the verge of tears.