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October 17, 2019

Always about Hope – Prologue & Chapter 1

*Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series—lucky you. Head to the author’s profile to continue reading.

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Prologue

“Thank God it’s them instead of me!” I recall reading somewhere that no-one else would agree to sing that line of the song when it was re-mixed in 2014, no-one. The original singer sang the same line. Why? Why wouldn’t anyone else sing it? I’m sure millions of people felt that way, yet no-one wanted to admit it.

It’s been the same with every other war, or act of terrorism that has taken place in my life time; possibly ever. People turn a blind eye, bury their heads in the sand, focus on their lives, their friends, their family; take an ‘I’m all right Jack!’ attitude.

There was a campaign to engage people; to create empathy, to make us realise that those involved were human beings like ourselves; no more or less worthy. I clearly remember a television commercial; an ordinary little girl, living a normal life in what could have been any British city. It showed her conditions deteriorate as war took hold of where she lived. At the end, she had no home, tatty, dirty clothes and just one teddy left to cuddle. She changed from looking happy and full of life, to seeming tired, ill and defeated.

Why could so few people relate? Could we not have tried to do more? Of course, there were some who did a lot; people who gave up their jobs and comfortable lives to help those in need.

At the time of the 2005 bombings, a message was circulated on social media to assist parents in supporting their children. “Look for the helpers; where there is trauma and harm, there are always those who will, and do help.” 

There are many silent heroes; incredible human beings, who put themselves in danger for others, or sacrifice their time, or money to come to another’s aid. They neither expect nor receive, any recognition or reward. The knowledge that they have made a difference to someone, is enough. My extraordinarily caring big sister Claire is one of those amazing people.

 

Chapter One

Even now, it almost doesn’t seem true.

The television footage looks like that from a movie, not real life, actual people. I saw it with my own eyes. We watched the very moment it happened; and yet here I am, living as though hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of lives have not been irreversibly changed forever.

It’s like we’re simply on holiday, able to ignore what has happened, although we can’t, obviously; well, I can’t.

I feel sick when I think about it. The butterflies in my stomach have barely stopped somersaulting since. I can almost hear the blood pounding around my body, as my heart beats so fast.

I have never suffered like this before. I just need to know. I wish I knew. Is she still alive? Will she be ok?

“Aunty Hope?” I come round from my thoughts with a start. There are tears flowing down my cheeks. Oh gosh, snap out of it! I grab a tissue from the box on top of the chest of drawers, next to the bed where I’ve been sitting. How long have I been staring out of the window to the sea? It’s such a beautiful view; idyllic, yet I had sat there seeing nothing.

I was lost in my thoughts. I keep doing this, drifting off to somewhere inside my head, losing connection with the world. Maybe that’s my way of coping? I must pull myself together; Emilia needs me. 

“Hope?” She calls out again. “Yes,” I reply. “Can I go down to the beach? I want to collect some shiny stones for Mummy.” I gulp back the urge to throw up. We’ve allowed Emmy to believe her parents to be ok. Hiding the extent of the devastation has been easy here; we don’t have a television in the cottage, or broadband; and the mobile phone reception on the island is limited.

“Hope?” A little face appears around the corner of the bedroom door. I quickly put the tissue in my pocket; “Oh, sorry Emmy.” Such a beautiful little face. Perhaps I’m biased, but to me she is a striking young girl, with her slightly curly light brown hair and big blue sparkly eyes. She has a smile that brightens any room and a personality that attracts others to want to be around her. She made friends so quickly here. All the children want her to play with them and Danny’s mum and dad are doting on her like proud grandparents. I wish my folks treated her like that and would appreciate how lucky they are to have such a wonderful granddaughter.

I glance out of the window again, this time noticing the stunningly clear bright blue sky, with very few clouds over head. It is a shade of blue that is rarely seen in London. The sun was shining and the sea looked calm, though there was a gentle movement of the trees that line the headland; “It looks a little breezy, let’s get our coats on.”

Thankfully Emmy was wearing her coat, when I collected her from the station. Collected, is that the right word? Took her? Met her? Rescued her? No, that is too strong. I’m sure she didn’t need rescuing, although maybe, bringing her here has rescued her; but from what? It’s certainly protected her from the truth of what happened and what may still be occurring back at home. It’s hard to deduce from so far away. 

I will be forever grateful to the villagers who met us when we arrived back at the cafe, and offered her clothes and toys. Their generosity overwhelmed me. Emmy was very excited and thankful for all her gifts; as that is how she saw them. She didn’t understand why I had burst into tears.

In the couple of months that I had been there, so much had happened and they had included me in everything. I felt deeply cared for and completely at home in their company. I wonder if I would have felt different had I not met Danny?

I cannot imagine life without him. In fact I can only envisage life with him, always. The thought both excites and scares me. I have actually met him, the man that I want to be with for the rest of my life. Despite everything we have experienced together in the last week, he remains the most wonderful man I have ever met; my best friend. I’m not sure how I would have coped without him.

“Careful!” I call out, as we reach the rock pools and Emmy jumps across them. She seems so grown up for a child of 5, nearly 6 years old. But then, what do I know; I’m hardly an expert at 25 myself. With Claire being 15 years older, I never had younger children around me as I was growing up.

I’m suddenly aware that she is silent and has been as we walked to the shore. In fact she has been quiet a lot with me, since we arrived here. That is not natural for her. When I lived with them, it was as though she never stopped talking! She seems to sense when I need peace. Perhaps she is as intuitive as her mother? I’m sure the quiet won’t last long. She’ll soon find an interesting object to ask me about, or something she wants to show me.

There are some large rocks at the corner of the headland, next to the rock pools which connect it to the beach. Finding one that is close to the path, dry, and has a flat surface, just big enough, I sit down.

Being here reminds me of the way I felt when I first watched a film set in Scotland; the shoreline, rock pools, the ocean, the sky. I had longed to visit the Scottish coast. There is something so very calming about breathing in the sea air, whilst listening to the sound of the waves gently crashing on the rocks; occasional squarks from flocks of gulls. 

Sitting here at the edge of the beach, I feel connected to Mother Earth somehow, to the Universe even. I feel complete again, though I hadn’t realised that I wasn’t. Perhaps this is why people meditate, take the time to just ‘be’. I’ve obviously not mastered clearing my head of thoughts yet, but I’m guessing that this is almost as good, for now anyway. Maybe once I have reflected on all that is swimming around in my brain, I can calm it?

Watching Emmy playing in the rock pools fascinates me. Children have such an incredible ability to live in the moment.  Perhaps it’s because we adults protect them from our worries, or possibly it’s that they trust us so deeply to care for them and keep them safe. Or it could just be that they have not developed a heightened awareness of what goes on beyond what they see, hear and feel for themselves. 

They find wonder and joy in such small things. They observe details that we may overlook. The day we arrived here, she had been in awe of a tiny crab, watching it for some time, as it scuttled sideways searching for food. She had no fear of all the new creatures she discovered, happily collecting sea snails to show me with pride. Today is no different. She is studying the stones to find the perfect one, to take as a present for her mum.

Such a stunningly beautiful place. I wonder why Danny ever left, but of course, I know why he did, he’s explained it in detail and I understand his reasons. I am also very aware that he always intended to return. This is his future. Wow, this is my future. 

It’s just hit me; this is it; this is us; where we will bring up our own child one day. Should I already be thinking that far ahead? He says that he feels the same way as me. Then again, even if he does and I believe he does, I guess there are no guarantees anymore.

No-one could have predicted what has just happened. Could they? Did someone know? Well, of course, those behind it knew. How many years had they been planning for? This was an attack greater than anyone could have imagined. Your average person anyway. Surely the security forces must have had some knowledge that someone was plotting something? How many people were involved?

“Hope, look at this one! It’s shaped like a heart!” Emmy came running up to where I was sitting on the rock, a couple of metres away. “Wow, that is beautiful!” It’s so smooth and such a lovely pale rose colour. It almost looks like a crystal. “Please can you put it in my pocket?” On her coat was a small ‘secret’ pouch that she liked to put interesting things in, but she found it difficult to open and close the zip, whilst wearing it. I duly obliged, placing the stone inside. It really was shaped like a heart; quite unique. “Thank you. I’m going to look for one for daddy now,” and off she skipped back to her mission of hunting out the ideal token of her affection.

Her mood was lifted and she started singing. I couldn’t quite catch the song. Some chart hit no doubt. She kept up with all the latest music that was popular with her friends at school. When I lived with them, she had found it funny that I didn’t know who some of her favourite singers were. When did I lose touch with what was ‘in’? I’d felt old.

I’m so glad that we had that time together, I really got to know her; we became close. When I took her out on our own, people assumed that she was my daughter, which made me smile; although she always corrected them, stating proudly that I was her aunty Hope. That made me smile more. It would be wonderful to one day have a daughter of my own; someone who is as fun loving and passionate about life, but also thoughtful, caring and considerate, like Emmy.

The sound of a car approaching startles me; my train of thought abruptly interrupted. I feel as though someone just slapped me across the cheek and told me to wake up. Taking a moment to breathe deeply, filling my lungs with fresh, clean, salty sea air; I compose myself, before looking back to where the vehicle has parked.

“Hello!”

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