On Tuesday, a terrorist attack occurred on Westminster Bridge about a mile and a half from my flat in central London, killing four and injuring 40, seven of whom are in critical condition. The attack occurred when a car drove into a crowd on Westminster Bridge before crashing into the gate surrounding the House of Parliament. The attacker then reportedly exited the car and fatally stabbed a police officer before being shot down.
When I was first alerted of the attack, what struck me was fear. I was less than a mile from the attack, it was ongoing, and I had to get home. There was speculation that this was just one of many attacks planned for around London. I avoided the tube, I half-walked, half-ran the full half mile home, with my palms sweating and pulse quickening.
When I finally got to my flat, turned around and locked the door behind me, I thought there would be a sense of relief, safety or comfort. But there was none. Instead, there was a deep emptiness I felt in the pit of my stomach, turning on the BBC and seeing the images of Big Ben and Westminster Bridge shrouded in blood, fear and unsightly human suffering. The golden beacon that is Big Ben was drenched in the shadow of red and blue sirens.
It was difficult for me to put into words at the time what exactly I was feeling. I was at home, safe in my flat, and all of my friends were safe as well. I should feel grateful, or at least a sense of relief, but instead I felt horror, and I felt disillusionment.
The night after the attack, I couldn’t sleep. My mind was racing and once I woke up the next morning, I realized it was not so much that the attacks occurred in a city that I have called home for the last few months, it was Westminster Bridge.
Since I have moved here, I have walked across the Westminster Bridge dozens of times. It’s a wide, expansive pathway over the Thames River, with low walls that make you almost feel like you’re walking on water. Look to your left and you see the London Eye — representing the new, the future of London. Look to your right and you see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament — rising up against the skyline as a symbol of the stalwart, impenetrable institution of the city of London and their system of democracy. On a good day, the Houses of Parliament glitter in the sunlight as its reflection dances across the Thames.
But even still, I wasn’t so affected because the attack occurred at a beautiful place. It’s because this piece of London belongs to everyone, and that’s what kept drawing me back to it. Some parts of London are exclusive, designated for the native Londoner. The Westminster Bridge was never exclusionary. From the second you step onto the bridge for the first time, you belong. It is a piece of London that belongs to everyone. Whether it’s your first day in London or your last, the bridge belongs to everyone. It is where you become a Londoner. And that is why the attack is particularly gruesome for me. This place, this slice of London that is accessible and recognizable by all, became a scene of heartbreak and pain.
I have been those people on the bridge. It was the one place in London that I always felt like I belonged. I was there a few days ago, if it had not been so rainy and cold the day of the attacks, I may have been there again. The day prior I had given someone directions to the bridge, telling them it was a beautiful way to see the city and recommending they go. I hope they didn’t.
I’m still sorting through how I feel about the incident, how long until I’ll go back to Westminster Bridge. But I will go back. And when I do, I hope it is still filled with the same joy, awe and sense of belonging that it once was. This part of London still belongs to all of us, it does not and cannot belong to fear.