This morning didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. I had a lie-in, ate a bowl of porridge and travelled to work, admiring the dogs in the park on the way to the tube station. One licked my hand in greeting, which was nice. I watched the planes quietly descend into Heathrow airport a few miles away and thought about the victims of the Westminster bridge terrorist attack, who died one year ago today. The daffodils seem to be surviving, despite the frosts. I read my book on the tube, which is delayed. Nothing unusual, nothing of note.
A couple of hours later, I leave my office in Bloomsbury and cross the road, down towards New Oxford Street. I pass the actor Hugh Dennis, who works nearby, and think about how much I enjoyed last week’s episode of Not Going Out. It’s a silly British comedy, lots of gags. I think about my meeting at the BBC later on that day; I think about podcasts, ideas for podcasts. I go into the sandwich shop. Mozzarella with chicken, or ham? I wish I liked aubergine, but it reminds me of brillo pads. I think it’s the texture.
I tap my debit card and don’t bother with a receipt. The ladies who run the sandwich shop swap over. The older lady goes on her break. I watch her select from the salad bar as my panini sizzles in the grill (I went with chicken, even though I’m aware it’s barn-reared. I need the protein). The cous cous looks nice. It’s nearly salad weather, but not quite.
Another customer enters the shop. I’m suddenly aware how quiet it is, unusually quiet for lunchtime on a Thursday. This particular café has a high rating on Trip Advisor. Where is everyone?
The younger woman hands my panini over the counter, it’s nice and hot. I should leave it for ten minutes before I attempt to eat it, I think. I’m starving but I’d quite like the roof of my mouth to remain intact. I say thank you and push open the door. There’s a man with a television camera standing outside, and he isn’t wearing a coat. How long has he been there? Blue and white striped tape has appeared, since I was waiting for my panini. How long has it been there? A police officer, a young man with close-cropped hair and no helmet, is wrapping the tape around the tree growing from the pavement. Police line, do not cross. I can get around it. I look back to the cameraman and wonder if they are filming something. An open-top bus carrying tourists towards Covent Garden is stationary to the left of the cameraman. The union jack motif covering the bus makes me flinch. Rule Britannia, it says, though not explicitly. Another officer, across the road, wrapping the other side of the tape. Police line, do not cross.
“Please move away from the cordon.” His voice is calm, so I don’t panic.
The police officer, the one with the close-cropped hair, calls out to the few bystanders. “Move away from the cordon.” I realise I am not moving away from the cordon, too interested in the activity. I look left, up the road towards my office. Nobody is looking out of the window. There are no sirens, and even if they were, it would be nothing unusual. I call my colleague. “Look out of the window, can you see me? Can you see what’s happening?” I see our office window slide open and spot a yellow jumper. I’m coming back, I say. I think it’s real. There aren’t enough cameras.
I run up the stairs, two at a time. Nothing unusual. I sprint up the stairs; it’s a thing I do. Not unusual. In the office, I run to the window, open it and look outside. I see the police, and the flashing lights. No sirens, which is strange. I was just there, I say. I was there and I saw…
What did I see? I saw blue and white striped tape. Police line, do not cross. I saw two police officers. There may have been more, but the buses are stationary. The road is a sea of red. The buses are in the cordon. In front of it, behind it, in amongst it. I am in amongst it. I take a video from the window, from my point of elevation on the second floor. The building has survived two World Wars, but I step back from the window just in case. Single glazing wouldn’t protect me if it shattered. What could I see? Not much, now.
I share the video. I wish I had more Twitter followers, I think. My book is nearly finished and I don’t have enough influence on social media for people to know about it, to anticipate its release. Will anyone even buy it? I think about this a lot. I walk back to the window and swipe to unlock my phone.
“Hi Elizabeth, can we share this video on our website with full credit to you?”
It’s a news reporter, I can see she has a blue tick. What’s happening, she asks. I’m not sure, I reply. I can’t see down the road. There’s a cordon. Police line, do not cross. I was there, just now. I am there. Chicken, mozzarella and pesto. I usually don’t ask for tomato but I will benefit from the Vitamin C. It’s been a long winter.