After weeks of grey British weather, the sunny start to 29 November seemed to promise a beautiful and shiny day. When I arrived at the historic, emblematic Fishmongers Hall in central London – my place of work but one that truly felt like a second home – there was no way I could know that day would see one of the biggest and most life-changing tragedies I could ever witness: the London Bridge attack.
I began preparing for the day ahead – we were hosting the fifth anniversary conference for charity Learning Together – and I remember wandering round looking at leaflets about their work. When guests arrived, everything was normal: food starts flowing, there’s a great atmosphere and guests fill their bellies.
After taking a break – it’s Black Friday, and the combination of long queues and my short patience puts me off shopping – I return to the hall around 1:40ish, stopping to chat with a colleague in the cloakroom. A young woman takes her coat to leave the building briefly, as we wait for the guests to break out for coffee. Little did we know that at the same time, a man had been preparing himself in the men’s toilet next door to the cloakroom during my lunch break to commit an atrocity that would end the bright future of two young people there that day. Both, in a grimly ironic twist, were there supporting the integration of ex-prisoners in the workplace: Jack Merritt, and Saskia Jones… the woman who had just picked up her coat.
Panicking, I hide in a room to try to reach my family. I remember telling my brother I have seen two women stabbed and that I don’t really know what is going down.
I hear a sharp, loud scream. What on earth are they doing at this conference, I remember thinking. Then, a second scream from a man and a woman – and I realise they’re not coming from the conference room. Getting louder and more intense, my situation begins to feel very unreal.
Suddenly, a woman passes me with her arm bleeding. Down the corridor, I see a woman on the stairs that seems to have been stabbed and is losing a lot of blood. I run to find colleagues for help, but find no one. Panicking, I hide in a room to try to reach my family. I remember telling my brother I have seen two women stabbed and that I don’t really know what is going down. I head back to the conference room and find the guests still there, shocked, disoriented, and with fear on their faces. We hear someone shout: “Call the police! Call the police!”
I can not stop shaking, or stop fearing for my life. We eventually evacuate through the kitchen. When I follow the guests and as we reach the outside, we start hearing gunshots: four shots, then two. I remember feeling terrified not knowing how many people were involved in the attack, or even what was actually happening at the time. I didn’t know if my life was still at risk, but the incredibly fast arrival of police made me feel somewhat relieved.
We were then taken to a building next to Fishmongers Hall, where we are held for about an hour, where we gave statements on what we’d all seen. That’s how the most traumatic, terrifying day of my life came to an end. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes in total.
It’s been a month now, and I’m still processing what really happened. I’m suffering with insomnia and flashbacks of those ten minutes that seemed an eternity back then. I can’t forget the feeling of fearing for my life hiding in a room. I can’t forget seeing Saskia minutes before the attack. And I was just a witness to the attack – I can’t imagine how the families of those who lost their lives and those still recovering from their injuries must be feeling.
I’m only now finding ways to cope with stress and all sort of emotions running high. I find myself overthinking all the ‘what ifs’ about that day, and trying to understand how could someone hurt and end people’s lives in a matter of seconds, just like that: why did he do it during the break? Was he targeting specific people? What if the brave men who confronted him on London Bridge had not been there? The damage could have been even graver than it already was.
In the days after the attack, I read as Jack and Saskia were identified as those who lost their lives. That triggered just not just sadness but difficulty sleeping, and vivid nightmares when I even could. Since then I’ve avoided the news whatsoever, instead trying to keep my mind busy as much as possible, meeting friends and family and talking openly about what happened.
I was afraid of how I would feel once I entered Fishmongers Hall again... Afraid of reliving every moment of the attack all over again in my head.
If it’s possible for there to be any positives at all from something like this, this tragedy has at least brought the Fishmongers Hall family closer than ever. They’ve shown huge support, offering us 24/7 counselling and staff meetings to support one another. Still, I had been very nervous over these weeks about going back to the hall, afraid of how I would feel once I enter the building again. Afraid of seeing the places where I saw people wounded. Afraid of reliving every moment of the attack all over again in my head.
When I made the decision of trying to ‘go back to normal’, I asked a friend to meet me outside the building to enter together. Scared of crumbling I reached the floor where everything happened, I just didn’t want to do it alone. When we did however, I saw the hard work the hall is doing to repair after the attack: walls have been repainted, carpet is being replaced. Despite some things having changed or moved, and despite a feeling of emptiness in certain rooms and bringing back flashbacks of what happened filling my heart with sadness for those who lost their lives, I managed to finish my shift feeling okay and ready for the new year of work ahead.
I am not sure when the reality of what happened hits me, or what will happen when I walk alone around the hall, or how I’ll feel when I talk about the attack with my colleagues and I find myself there again. But, for now, this is my story.
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