“I refuse to die next to a shelf full of organic walnuts,” I thought as I stood amongst other terrified souls hiding from what we assumed was a group of deadly terrorists storming Oxford Street in either a truck or armed with AK47s or long, jagged knives they nicked from their kitchens. This was not how I pictured the end of my life.
The employees of the Holland and Barrett in Bond Street Station were pretty abysmal when it came to dealing with the supposed deadly event that befell us that day. They continued to open and close the security door in confusion while we all yelled in protest from our crouched positions, thinking that a barrage of bullets would whistle through at any moment if they didn’t get their shit together.
Yes, I’m talking about the Chinese whispers clusterfuck that was Black Friday in London last year. What began as a small tussle on a tube platform morphed into a mass exodus of frantic, screaming shoppers running from an imaginary band of extremist gunmen who had apparently blown up Selfridges at some point though I couldn’t see smoke nor did I hear an explosion.
My experience of the happening began when I was walking out of the Bond Street station on my way to get the hairs ripped out of my lady area at a salon nearby. Suddenly a wave of people came rushing at me from the street, I’ll never forget the sound of thunder as their quick, panicked feet pounded the ground beneath me. I was instantly swept up in the frenzy and struggled to maintain my balance as we all raced back into the station looking for refuge. I ran at the nearest opening — a Holland and Barrett appeared ahead of me and I galloped towards it, as I entered I began ordering the employees to close the door like some army general. I’d never longed for the excruciating pain of a Hollywood wax more in my life.
A girl was already crouched in a corner behind me, unable to move and wide-eyed. She kept saying, “I want to be anywhere else but here, I want to be anywhere else by here.” There was an older woman comforting her, she was seated in front of the emergency exit which I kept my eye on in case I needed to push her whimpering frame out the way and escape.
A group of schoolgirls were sobbing behind a shelf, wailing about not wanting to die and a mother clutched her son close to her. We were a herd of spooked deer.
In thankful retrospect, I realised that though I’d hoped I would step up and be a good samaritan and hero to my fellow man if needed, that was not the case. No, I was ready to hop over anyone who tripped and fell in the stampede as I ran for glorious freedom. I can safely say that the mirror this event held up was not one I want to look in to ever again. Though if said person was a dog or teacup pig I would have used myself as a human shield so I’m not completely sociopathic. My survival instinct is just very selective.
Eventually, a security officer popped out of nowhere and screamed at us to run out the station, I raced to the escalator and scuttled up the stairs to the exit, only to be met by yet another massive crowd of hysterical shoppers screeching around the bend. A woman fell in front of me, I leapt over her like a springbok and sprinted ahead of the fray into the night. Yes, I’m a terrible person. I breathed a strained sigh of relief, thinking we were out of the woods at that point — until crowds came racing down from Oxford Street just yards ahead.
“What is happening?!” One woman yelled so loudly it made my teeth rattle. The fact was that no one knew, some said shooter, others screamed bomb. We all thought we were going to die, we just didn’t know how exactly. I just kept running until I hit a junction and saw taxis waiting at a light. I scuttled across traffic and went to open a black cab door which the driver locked in my face – I joined team Uber SO quickly in that second.
I broke into the cab behind and leapt onto an old woman with a cane who yelled at the sight of me and the three girls who surprisingly followed behind, still clutching tons of shopping bags – priorities. We all piled on top of each other, they were crying about “a bomb in Selfridges,” “a bomb in Selfridges!”
“I don’t see or smell smoke, how?” I kept saying. I watched as their faces settled from abject horror into confusion while they sat on top of the old lady, who by now was squeaking under a mass of hysterical females.
Because there was no smoke, there was no bomb or shooter. A group of men got into a fight on a tube platform at the Oxford Street stop earlier that evening, someone yelled “gun!” With that, a fire alarm was pulled and the mania began, making its way to me and my quiet night in London.
All I wanted while sitting in the black cab we’d all hijacked was to leave the city and never look back. I texted everyone I loved, including my boyfriend at the time. I thought that surely sending a message that read, “there might be a terrorist attack, they’re saying its a shooter, I’m trapped in a Holland and Barrett.” I would get a teeny phone call. NOPE. An almost terrorist attack is a great way to test the waters of any new relationship. People either rise to the occasion or disappoint you horribly. I think we all know what happened in this case. To be fair, there is no manual for such a thing.
Nevertheless, when all was said and done I was happy to be breathing, I was looking forward to leaving the experience behind.
Why I’m writing about this now is that I’m still struggling, this event was a giant, terrible fire drill that shook me to my core.
I come from a violent country, I’ve witnessed things that would put anyone in therapy for a strong minute. Let’s just say, I know how much blood leaves the human body when a bullet hits a major artery. A river, a lake of red.
But that’s not the point here, the point is that I can barely ride the tube without counting back from ten, I still can’t manage crowds in any sort of scenario. I’m fully traumatised, I’ve reached my peak – yet I haven’t endured some of the moments my friends have back home. Guns to faces, possessions stolen, lives threatened, lives stolen, etc. Coming from a violent place either makes you violent or much too aware. I think that sort of sensitivity brings about an openness that took in the abject terror from that night.
I’m getting better, I’m on my own but I’m stronger, more aware than I’d like to be. I still wish for ignorance but for now, I’ll manage the knowing a little too much.