Thursday, November 17, 2005

Well, I watched the documentary

It was extraordinarily vivid. It made me realise a little of what it is like for other people to hear my story - our story. It took me back there, properly, for the first time since.

People have asked me what it was like, they have said that they can't imagine what it was like. I couldn't say before, but now I have seen the documentary, I remember it all.

The programme I watched brought back all the memories of the way the roof collapsed down, the way the bombed Piccadilly carriage looked, but it was so dark at first, the memories are like a dream you can't remember, a puzzle you can't solve.

Night diving, without a regulator. Breathing in liquid, drowning. The texture in your mouth of grit, and the taste of blood. Everything changed in a heartbeat.

Have you ever changed a hoover bag? Imagine pushing your face into the open dust bag, and taking deep breaths. That is all you have to breathe. It is no longer air that you breathe.

Then imagine as well as the dry-mouthed choking lung-filling dust, the not-air, the grit, sharp grit. It makes your tongue swell and crack and dry out like leather. It is tiny shards of glass that you are breathing in.

I never covered my mouth. I had nothing to cover it with, and there didn't seem any point.

Then imagine a metallic wet taste on your mouth, like vapourising copper particles. It tastes as if you are sucking a coin. That is the blood. It sprays you, your clothes, your face, your hair, your lips are wet with it. The walls drip with it. But it is black blood, it drips, viscose, like oil, because you are breathing in the smoke and the blood mixed up together. Your skin and hair are wet with the sticky blackness. The temperature rises.

Finally, try to imagine the smell. It is an acrid smell of peroxide, and burning rubber, and burning hair. It fills your nose. It takes over the memory of every smell you have ever remembered and wipes it out. It burns into your mucus membranes.

At first your ears are deaf. The explosion has punched your eardrums so violently that your cheekbones and sinuses ring with it and ache with it.

Then you hear the screams. They do not sound like human voices screaming.

You suck in air. You realise that you are on the floor, and that there are bodies lying on top of you. The bodies are squirming. You are alive. They are alive. Your hand locks into another woman's hand. You hiss air out, pat your legs, arms, you are still here.

You hear a voice, far away. A hubbub of murmurs, and an endless scream that does not seem to draw breath, ever. There is a tinkle of glass falling. Your face is wet. You do not know if it is with sweat or blood. Your blood, or other people's blood. You do not know if you still have a recognisable face.

You grasp the hand and the voice says 'Are you all right? Stand up. Stay calm'.

It is your voice.

And other voices say the same thing. And you try to stay hopeful, you make yourself stay calm.

And times passes, the driver is not dead after all, ssssssh, listen to his voice. See, here are hands lifting you down the ladder of the driver's cab, a soft Scottish voice warning you not to step on the live tracks.

The screams are fading as we walk away down t amhe narrow tracks. My ears ring, my eyes swim. I start to pant, because this is so hard.

And now you are walking through the greenish light of the misted tunnel, and you hear yourself and other voices saying that there is hope, there is help, just walk, they are waiting for us all. With water. With blankets. With ambulances and oxygen. Nurses, doctors, helpers, all waiting, they will be there, and all we have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. You say it again and again, to drown out the groans of the dying man who is being carried on the man's shoulders, stumbling behind you. The women walking near you listen, they walk, we all walk. We speak to each other. We try to make jokes. We encourage each other. We babble, to drown out the faint groans of the man who is dying. We walk softly, carefully, looking at our bloodied and blackened feet on the uneven flags of the tunnel floor. It takes 15 minutes to walk down the tunnel to Russell Square. Lights will guide us home.

The lights are brighter and I see the small bone poking out of my wrist and I stagger, but here is a woman holding my arm. Here is a man in a flourescent jacket, pointing the way. Here are hands lifting me out of Russell Square; they are pulling on my split wrist; this is the only time I scream.

In the lift. People are falling sideways, eyes staring with shock. In the ticket hall, a white-faced man hands me water. People start to lie on the floor and slump, they stagger. I don't know what to do to help them. I reach down to a woman and ask if she is ok. She stares blankly, I can't reach her. I need a cigarette. I can't smoke in the ticket hall. I stagger out onto the pavement, opposite Tescos, by the zebra crossing. I manage to call my boyfriend and leave a message. I am terrified that he is on the train behind me, and that he is dead. I say that the train has derailed.

I can't light the cigarette, my hand is wet with blood. I am covered in black film and blood. I don't think the blood is mine, I need to call work, but I can't remember my number.

A Japanese tourist is filming me. The LU officials are grey with shock. People are milling about outside, looking irritated. A commuter shouts ' I need to get to work!' . She sees me, comes up to me.

'What the hell is going on? I need to get the tube to work!'

I am black-faced, shuddering, Einstein-haired. I tell her that she won't get to work on the tube today. She mouths a curse at me.

Someone lights my cigarette for me, and I take an emormous drag, anything to take the taste of peroxide and blood from my mouth. I find a number. It is Jenna, a girl on my team. She passed her first aid course last week, she works in Covent Garden. I tell her to please come in a taxi, I need A&E.

I say that I don't need an ambulance. The people I left behind need the ambulance.

I don't want to think about who I left behind.

I start to faint. The taxi comes. I tell my colleague Jenna to ask if anyone wants a lift to A&E. My mouth is numb, my ears are humming, I can't see properly any more. I am panting again.

Jenna wraps a bandage around my wrist. The taxi drives through Tavistock Square, it is nearly 9.45am, as we leave the Square there is a dull 'crump' noise. Later I find out that it was the bus exploding. We get to University College Hospital. The taxi driver demands a tenner. I pass it over. I switch off.

I had forgotten all of this until I saw the documentary. I remembered it all again. I can taste the smoke again. Still.

I saw Gill, the police, the LU staff, and their bravery and sweetness and humanity staggered me, but I need to watch it again, to see and feel how brave they were, because when I watched it, I was not a viewer. I was there.

*Breathe in and out*

I have not come so close to it before. I was there, but I did not know how close I was. I did know, but I did not remember. And others I know were closer still.

Pour wine, deep breath, and lie in J's arms, for a while. That's enough, for now.

Good night.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think of all that you've written about your ordeal, this has been by far the most disturbing one I've read.

I don't know why, it's not the most graphic or detailed, but it somehow manages to take me on that journey with you. I think maybe it's because it is so precise, so simple and understandable.

You have my very deepest and humblest respect for the way you've dealt with this and shared with us.

All the best and a very big hug,


November 18, 2005 11:16 am  
Blogger Cheeseburger Brown said...

Nicely crafted to immerse the reader. Too bad it isn't fiction.



November 18, 2005 2:19 pm  
Blogger Oscar Wildebeest said...

Wonderful, Rachel. You have the gift of being able to write about such an experience from both the detachment of the third person and the immersion of the first. That's the gift of a great writer.

You also have the courage to write about it so that others can understand, AND the courage to be objective and not to resort to blame or hysteria. That's the gift of a true human being.

Hope none of this sounds patronising. Thank you for sharing.


November 21, 2005 12:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anything I can say to prise your prose and courage is meaningless.

Sharing your thoughts is a gift I will treasure for many years to come.

November 21, 2005 10:58 pm  
Blogger Brenda Clews said...

Honey, I linked to you in a recent post. Your writing is as profound as it is moving. Thank you.

November 22, 2005 2:58 pm  

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