He did not think through the dangers he might face. Had he done so he would not have believed himself brave enough to go. As it was he shrugged off concerns. Security had been tightened after all. Millions would attend the vigil, well, thousands anyway. Thousands like him, wherever they came from, whatever they believed. He would be among thousands who felt the same about tolerance and community, and working together for peace.
And as he sat there in the darkness with the T light in its little pot in front of him, the lights of the high rise city buildings deepening the shadows between them, he found himself contemplating, neither the victims nor the terrorists, but his own ravelled past.
It had been a comfortable life, he realised, despite its frustrations and disappointments. Sure, there had been challenges, difficulties.
There had been losses too, some of them unexpected, unfair, some might have said. The deaths of parents are to be expected, those of younger friends, not so. Divorce had taken him unaware, though it had been of his own making. His possessions had been reduced to a suitcase of clothes and the car he drove. House, furniture, CDs and cassettes, old vinyl LPs, books, souvenirs of people and places, had all gone. Even all these years later he could not bring himself to replace them without consciousness of the risk. Nothing, he reminded himself, ever truly belongs to you.He recalled people. School friends would be now middle aged. Girl friends would be mothers. Lovers would the lovers of others. He remembered one in particular who had accompanied him through the wild freedom immediately following his divorce. That had burned itself out. The sting of remembered guilt made him open his eyes.
And there she was.
Only yards away from him, sitting cross-legged at the other side of the river of lights with its islands of gaudy flowers. She was beginning to rise to her feet, and he saw a shock of recognition pass across her face. For a moment they stared at each other, and he was glad that she too, ignoring the risk, had come here to be part of this assertion of common humanity, and he could sense the same gladness in her too.
Then she turned away into the shadows and a stranger settled himself into what had been her place. But he was pleased that he had known, if only for seconds, this deeper goodness in her.
And as she passed on her way through the crowd, leaving him, she smiled to think that he too, of all people, had thought to come here.
Story by Brindley Hallam Dennis is an English writer of short stories. He lives on the edge of England, within sight of three mountain tops and a sliver of Solway Firth.
Illustration by Isabel Corrales