16 July 2005

My twenty four hour trip to Liverpool went very well, considering. I travelled up on Thursday afternoon, and am afraid I was in a haze of lastminuteness during the two-minute silence. I'd had to frogmarch S over to his playgroup in punishing heat and was quite discombobulated after, so much so I forgot my glasses on departure and had to get off the bus and come back for them...

On the train from Euston, I had to absorb the fact that I'd had dealings with one of the victims of the bus bomb. There she was on the front of the Guardian, Shahara Islam, 20 years old, bank worker at the Co-op in the Angel. When a few months ago I had to make a rare request of the bank it was she who spoke for them. It was one of those short and disorienting discussions, Ms Islam listened to me attentively, non-committal, polite. Then in that manoeuvre so brilliantly satirised by Matt Lucas and David Walliams in Little Britain, she asked the computer for an answer, and The Computer Said No.
It's hard to know how to settle such a memory. There are plenty of commentators telling me how to process the events of 7/7, and I'm grateful to them, on the whole. There needs to be a communal debate about what it means for a British city to be attacked in that way. But Shahara Islam was a real person in front of me, memorable to me for the ordinariness of her occupation, the deadpan execution of 'customer service' that it trained her to practise, and, crucially, how this studied courteousness contrasted with the fact of her immoderate personal beauty. Because she was beautiful in that way that can provoke a gasp, a double-take, a shake of the head. Immaculately groomed, easy with herself, confident almost to a fault, she exuded the benign arrogance that is the rightful preserve of youth. And she was a Muslim woman. The point bears repeating, she was a confident, competent, ordinarily extraordinary Muslim woman, representative of thousands of such women riding the transport systems of Britain to work each morning.
And she was killed by a Muslim man, barely a man, 18 years old.

There's a page on the Guardian site listing the dead and missing.

1 comment:

Ova Girl said...

looking through those faces has just...I don't know. The grief is so resonant. It's crushing. And the girl in the bank - I saw her family on tv here and some photos of her and you're right she was sublimely beautiful. your small portrait of her was moving and real. keep writing.