elb's hovel of thoughts

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Caught in London's second round

I glanced up, my attention caught by the radio as I filled in my forms. 'bomb... injured.. explosion... Underground'. Shit. I was stuck in the centre of London, and those were one of the last things that I had wanted to hear. Sure enough, as we had done our business, we walked back to the Underground station - to find that more lines were closed. The only quick conceivable way was to take the bus to our intended destination - so we decided to walk (A walk which took almost 9 hours, with a few hours set aside for shopping - it's the summer sales for goodness sakes!).

We had arrived an hour or so earlier - there were no less than 30 police at the station, some brandishing assault rifles, if I remember clearly. Half of them were playing the role of mobile tourist and traffic information centres to travellers. Probably the police were focused too much on the major stations, so the smaller ones were easier targets. Or maybe they were stretched too thin. No idea.

We were forced to take a much longer route than usual and had to change lines on an otherwise direct line - the Central line was out, as was a large part of Piccadilly and small bits of the other lines. People were edgy - when only one line out of several is running, there is a bloody HUGE crowd; you could feel the tension in some people as they glanced around scrutinizing fellow travellers, trying to be discreet. Many others behaved with the usual indifference of Londoner tube travellers, but you could still feel the tension in the air.

As expected, the lines immediately cut off when I tried to dial several people to try to find out more news. It wasn't that bad though - after three hours some calls were beginning to connect. We dined at a small Chinese cafe instead of Chinatown, the original destination thwarted by the new incidents; followed by a dessert at a cafe where we watched the incidents unfold live on television - including the live arrest of a suspect outside Downing Street.

We popped by Harrods for a short while. It was startlingly quiet despite the sales - I attribute this to the fact that the Piccadilly Underground line that it was on was shut down. We passed by double decker buses with policemen standing at the doors - which gives a somewhat sense of security, but in reality, suicide bombers will kill if they want to. We grabbed a copy of the Evening Standard as the vendor was unpacking the bundles. The news was on paper barely 6 hours after it happened - hot off the print!

One of the streets off Park Lane was cordoned off - I was surprised, because it wasn't anywhere near any of the earlier incidents. Later on when I looked at some of the travellers, I had some disturbing images flash into my mind. I wondered - what if someone loaded a huge piece of luggage with explosives, walked along the High Street or even worse the now very cramped Underground and did his deed? What if someone discreetly slipped some of this stuff into the bags of otherwise innocent commuters - the very opposite of pickpocketing? I shaked at that thought.

Along Edgware Road, we saw a small booth run by two Muslims with some paraphernalia. There was a banner, with the names such as Abraham, Jesus, and Moses on it. I smiled at the young lad behind the crude desk as I scanned through the material he had - he offered me two copies of material which I accepted.

'What religion are you?'
'Well, we are Muslims, and we believe that Jesus...'
'Nabi Isa'

He was startled for a moment, probably from the shock that a Chinese knew Jesus' Arabic name, but quickly carried on.

*Nodding* 'Yes, Nabi Isa, we believe that he is a prophet.'

Not wanting to start the age old arguement, I merely nodded. 'I come from a largely Muslim country, so I do know a bit about what you are talking about (especially when the authorities force it down your throat in spades under the guise of Sejarah*).' On a more serious level though I have studied Islam before briefly - as a Christian, I believe that it is important to know about the other major religion which shares more or less similar roots. Although I do admit that my memory about it has mellowed quite a bit.

I gave him a smile. 'I think it is good that you are here, sharing and helping the English to understand Islam a little bit better - that the two of us share the same bond from before Isaac and Ishmael. To help them see that Islam isn't all that bad'

He looked at me - we locked eyes for that very instant and he smiled. 'I hope so too. Insya-Allah**'

'Insya Allah'.

(cue small talk for a couple of minutes as we got to know each other a little bit better).

*Sejarah = History.
**Insya-Allah = God willing


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