Christa McSwain sighed when she heard her digital camera beep. She looked up at the Winston Churchill statue flanked by the summer leaves. Even in statue, the leader appeared intimidating. Christa looked to her teaching colleague, Lynne Saxton, and gestured to the camera.
“You have the brochure. My camera battery is about dead. Do I take a picture of Churchill or Big Ben?”
Lynne haphazardly folded the brochure and threw it in her fake Coach purse.
“Big Ben. I know it’s a clock tower but Ben has way more personality than Churchill.”
Christa nodded, pivoting away from the formidable statue. She still wanted pictures of Parliament at a better angle. She took a few steps forward, sliding her sunglasses off the top of her head. Just as her eyes adjusted with the sunglasses, her right toes felt a searing pain.
“So sorry, forgive me.”
Christa never tired of hearing the clipped British accent but there was more to this woman’s tone. The fifty something lady accidentally backed into Christa, piercing her high heel shoes into Christa’s sandal clad toes. Her eyes weren’t on Christa, Churchill, Big Ben or Parliament. The woman’s eyes fixated on her Bolivar watch.
“No problem.” Christa’s voice faded as she noted the grassy square filled with people.
She looked to Lynne, who shrugged. A man with a London 2012 t-shirt passed by to make way for the new wave of people. Christa realized the reason behind the mass exodus. No one spoke. Christa respectfully slid her camera back in her tote bag.
Sobs and sniffles marked the next two minutes. Big Ben rang, but even he sounded more somber than booming. Black taxis stopped. No vehicle moved, not even through precious green lights. Christa looked down, closing her eyes. Her silent prayers transcended the waters and time. Her mind was back on American soil, September 11, 2001. Tears fell on her black knit shirt.
Christa opened her eyes, surprised to see the crowds milling back to their offices and tourist destinations. Lynne was nearby handing a tissue to an elderly gentleman overcome with tears.
“You’d think we’d be used to violence, but not so, least not for me.”
A woman about Christa’s mom’s age stood next to Christa, staring at the July blue sky. She addressed Christa again.
“You were probably a child but not so long ago we had so much conflict because of Northern Ireland. This, what happened last week, it just shakes me, shakes me to the core.”
Christa nodded and patted the woman’s hand.
“Perhaps with those times, you knew your enemy. These days we aren’t sure. Hate seems invisible. I know after September eleventh I looked over my shoulder for the longest time, always wondering if the person behind me was the next one to unleash an attack.”
“You do understand. Did you lose anyone in the Towers?”
Christa brushed away a rogue tear.
“Not family, but a friend from college. Did you, lose anyone last week?”
The stranger’s stoic face vanished in a pool of grief. Christa reached out to steady her.
“My niece. Aldgate bombing. Her mother was the last to see her.”
“I’m so sorry. It’s senseless, I’ll never understand. Great lives cut short. I’m a teacher and my students ask many questions about motivation. Why people kill. I have no answers.”
The American and the Brit quietly walked through the Square’s green grasses. The woman pointed to a taxi, indicating it was time to move forward with the day. Christa gave her a hug. The woman stepped back.
“My husband has his version of an answer. He said misdirected loyalties will be the end of us all.”
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