I remember it all.
And as I write these words, my belly starts to churn, saliva piles up in the back of my throat while my mouth turns dry at the same time. My heart races and pumps and drums and something at the back of my eyes feels strange.
My forehead turns cold.
My head is a piece of hard metal.
As hard and cold as the stretcher they scooped underneath me.
As hard and cold as my body, shivering more and more quickly as my feet, my knees, my thighs and my stomach were turning over to a sinister cold. The sound of two pieces of metal clinking, banging, filling the void of this cold and freezing thing inside me.
Like a tin spoon on a metal cup trying to say : hey, I’m here.
You were here then and you’re still here now.
Although every year, around the 16th of November, I still wonder.
Did it really happen?
Maybe it was all just a bleep.
I move my left shoulder to remember.
I feel the pain that is always there. And that I cherish in a way.
Because then I know that it’s real.
Where are you now? What do you think about?
What do you see?
Are you still frightened? Are you still running?
I only know your name.
Your name and your eyes. Your eyes so wide I thought I might drown.
I could recognize your eyes in an instant.
Although they could be someone else’s.
Because I’ve seen your eyes again. On the Tube, under bridges.
In my friend’s glare when she’s not herself.
Those wide wide eyes. Bottomless.
And your smile. So wide too.
Too wide to be true.
On the 16th of November, I thought you were playing a joke on me.
But then I turned around.
Saw the knife planted in my back.
The black plastic handle pushed hard against my winter coat.
I heard the cries of the cashier.
And saw the look on the young man’s face.
And then I knew.
I moved away from you and stopped the young man’s hand heading towards the knife.
Stared at him and said with one look : “Don’t touch it”.
And then aloud: “I’m gonna be sick, lay me down”.
The panic at first, crucified face down on the floor.
“Where is he? Where’s the man?”
And then the anger, raw and growing.
I remember the short Indian man who waited by my side,
Trying to comfort me: “Don’t worry, that’s life.”
“Fuck you bastard, how is that life?”
And then the ambulance arrived. I could hear the men
Trying to focus while asking me my name.
“We need a doughnut, something to keep it steady”.
A doughnut, really?
I was shouting my answers: name, Joanna; person to call: my mother; phone number: 0207 228 6128
My mouth smashed against the floor – Can’t you freaking hear me?
God I was appalled.
Frustrated and angry: why, for God’s sake, why?
They asked about my clothes: could they cut through them?
They asked about my breasts: could they grab them?
Sure, grab and cut all you want.
Then the metal, hard and cold
Swept underneath my skin. For the first time, the pain.
Like lightning and thunder, all the same.
And one of my breasts stuck in the emergency stretcher.
In an instant, they pulled me off the ground
Rolled me to the ambulance – I cursed all the while.
The poor ambulance man, laughing half-heartedly at my jokes.
I was not nice to him.
But I panicked when he left.
I shouted: “Please stay with me.”
He laughed and said okay.
The ambulance ride is a bit of a blur.
Then the pain again, and then the cold came.
A morbid chill creeping up my feet, and quickly, oh so quickly, running up my belly.
“I’m cold! I’m cold!”
My body turning stiff.
“Why don’t you keep me warm?
I’m cold, I tell you.”
It seemed no one could hear.
As the ambulance arrives: new voices, new questions,
A rush – I sense panic.
For me it’s strangely clear.
“Count to ten, then you’ll sleep”
“Are you kidding me? No way”
“Count please, you’ll see”
I woke up, drugged and groggy.
The Filipino medic didn’t think to salute me: “He was black, wasn’t he?”
I looked at her, paused and said very clearly:
“He was a balding, middle aged, white man”
I remember my mother, her eyes and her smile.
Forget your first words, there’s time for plenty others now.
So I fell back, desperate and drained, in the dark black (w)hole of pitiless pain.
I remember the nurse with her long thin hair.
I remember the day she bathed me, sitting on a blue plastic chair.
I remember the morphine, I remember the vomit.
I remember the police, the business card they left on my chest.
I remember them saying: “Call us when you’re ready”
And I remember the back of their heads.
I remember the boy who was angry and screamed:
“Let me go, you bastards”.
Let him go, please, I’m tired.
I remember the nights.
They were long and empty. So lonely and dark, they could’ve swallowed me easily.
But then the day came and the visits and the doctors.
My mother always, and one day…
He was shy, blond and oh so young.
“Come, dear boy, come! Don’t worry, I’m less blunt.
I was pissed, I was angry back then.
Sorry for being rude.”
My ambulance angel had come with the driver.
“We wanted to see you, to know how you were.
She didn’t even faint once, Madam!”
My mother’s smile and eyes.
I was laughing, I was joking, not putting up a show.
Genuinely happy to see them.
But then they were told to go.
“Come over here, let us see how you’re doing.”
Tugging at the drains, the chest tubes full of blood.
“Your lung is strong. Your nerves seem fine.
Thank god he just missed the heart. You’re good to go for now.”
And off I went,
The weight of my dead arm resting on my side.
Back home, at my parents’ house, the long long nights, the dread.
Weeks of floating and the weirdness of speaking to friends.
More astonishing comments:
How can people be so strange?
“No I did not know him, and how is that more scary?
I’m actually pretty happy no one I knew wanted to kill me.
And no I wasn’t walking alone, it wasn’t the middle of the night.
Yes it was dear old Baker Street, simply and in broad daylight.”
I know it’s tough to accept the fact this wasn’t meant to happen.
But what can I say? It did.
Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.
It’s like the short Indian man said: “It’s okay, that’s just life.”
And then the months went by, and then my arm could move.
I continued unscathed, at least I thought I could.
Could continue as planned, not pay any attention.
And then the 16th of November happened.
I didn’t understand it at first but quickly couldn’t ignore it.
My body was reminding me: a year prior, you were there.
Your eyes, your grin, your long face and balding hair.
My palms got sweaty, my head went blank,
I felt someone behind me, the fear.
Another year went by and another still.
I learned not to panic.
Instead I celebrate.
I don’t do anything fancy, like people think I should.
I just remember everything, some of which I’ll never share.
A sort of whisper, alone and to myself: “Yes, yes, it happened.
And that’s the way it went.”
In all this absurdity – why then? why there? why me?,
The only thing that makes true sense is that it happened, surely.
As surely as my shoulder still hurts, even though it’s much better.
As surely as my scars can tell, even though they’re so tiny.
It took me a while to see how you affected me.
You, dear Ian, you.
Burning with visions of persecution,
Struggling every day to escape.
Now we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary together.
10 years since I last saw you.
10 years since I first saw you.
I don’t think we’ll ever meet again.
I think about you always.
Hope you’re feeling better,
Goodbye dear Ian, farewell.
And to our next 10 years.
Photo credits: Joanna Dunis