Vol. 5 Num 418 Sat. July 30, 2005  
Front Page

Phew, that was a good Thursday

At Bromley-By-Bow Underground station, the cops are a surprise to me; six of them -- two at the entrance and four on the platform -- and none of them had been there for the past few days. Their presence reminded me today is Thursday, another Thursday exactly three weeks after those grisly bomb attacks.

With some nervousness I walk past them, my huge black rucksack feeling heavier, and look at the cops in the eyes. Their hard, flint-stone stare measures me up. I walk down to the station and find the other four there.

As the District Line train pulls up, I step into an almost empty carriage. I sit opposite a past-middle-age couple, with their probing eyes all over me. I feel their eyes groping me for something, and of course the stare stops at the rucksack. It is an unusual thing for London where people ride through their trips without even bothering to look who is sitting in front of them. Typically they keep their eyes glued to a book or a newspaper. Well, today is Thursday and it is a London after 7/7.

The man is wearing a white shirt and black trousers, the woman a beige suit, both of them wearing large silver rings. After a while they withdraw their eyes. I relax.

Did they think I am a suspicious character? Yes, they did. And they had been trying to see if I have hair on my chest, but they could not as I have done up today. Somewhere they read suicide bombers shave the hair before their (un)holy mission. They tell me all this later when I reveal to them my identity.

The next station is Bow and here a young lady clad in jeans walks in. She stands in front of me and immediately gives me a glance, but I don't care -- today is Thursday.

At White Chapel, a Bangladeshi populated area, I change the train for King's Cross. Again the carriage is empty, as it is not a peak hour. As the train crosses Monument, a lady's voice announces that Euston station is closed and the train will not stop there. It is a nervous statement by its own merit today, and the black woman sitting opposite me straightens up with a jerk. She looks around nervously and only finds me to give her some comfort. She gives an edgy smile and I show my teeth as if to reassure her.

I remember what Mrinal Sen of Brick Lane told me the previous night about the 7/7 incidents, his first-hand account. He works at King's Cross Underground. The British were very cautious in announcing that trains had been bombed, mainly to avoid panic and racial backlash.

"We knew right after the explosion that a terrorist attack had taken place," Mrinal said. "We were talking with the train's driver over wireless. Yet, the media kept on saying that the train faced a power surge."

We sit uptight and pray that nothing of that sort happen today. Not again.

Finally it is King's Cross. As I ride the long escalator, I have a funny feeling and turn around. Right behind me is a white man, looking intently at my backpack. He feels embarrassed to be caught like this. From the other row of escalator, a black man, a construction worker judging by his dress, gives me the stare too. This time I ignore.

Once out of the exit, I get more surprises -- the station is teeming with policemen. One of them has a huge shepherd dog, a bomb sniffer. But none of the cops are alert, they are just gossiping among themselves and do not bother to give me as much as a glance even though I cross them twice to catch the train to Victoria. Finally I approach one of them to ask which line to take for my destination. I look at the man's white shirt and remember Mrinal again.

"The policemen came immediately and disappeared inside the tunnel," he had said. "They went inside with neat white shirts and came out in soot and blood. They looked horrible and yet they kept on working in the most orderly fashion without panicking."

Security at Victoria seems to be more intense. Here I find four security dogs -- a Labrador, a spaniel, a pointer and a shepherd. The spaniel looks at me with her droopy eyes; she looks too pathetic to be a bomb detector. Mrinal said the dogs did a wonderful job that day in detecting victims' bodies and explosives.

I finally change line once more and come to Westminster to see Detective Superintendent David Tucker. He tells me security measures of an extraordinary level has been taken today after Met Chief Sir Ian Blair warned that the three 21/7 bombers still on the run could strike again.

Hundreds of reinforcements have been drafted in from forces around the South-East. More than 3,000 Met officers are armed in the force's biggest operation since the Second World War. Police marksmen have been equipped with AW50 heavy sniper rifles with a range of over a mile and 7.62 Lee Enfield Enforcers capable of stopping vehicles. Undercover officers have easy-to-conceal, folding-stock Heckler and Koch MP5K PDW submachine guns.

On my way back, the number of passengers increases. They start pouring out of offices to go home and I cram myself among them with my rucksack. Some of them look terrified, some of them constantly keep an eye on me, but many just ignore because they would hate to stereotype a bomber.

I remember what Mrinal said: "After the blast, the passengers started walking through the tunnels to come out of the mess, but they still did not know that the front carriages have been ripped up by explosions."

I look out the window and try to see how much space there is to walk -- it is too dark to guess anything.

At Bromley-By-Bow, those six cops are still there. But two hours later as I come out, their number has increased to 10. And this time they are more watchful as the number of passengers is still high. At King's Cross again, I find a different picture -- openly armed policemen are there this time, their submachine guns held ready. I walk past two huge and towering policemen, their fingers curled around the triggers of the Heckler and Koch.

I buy a ticket for Cambridge and board the train. Five minutes before the departure, two policemen step in and walk the whole length of the train, looking at every suspicious luggage that includes mine too, and then gets out. The train leaves.

Soon, we are in the countryside and the meadows appear -- cows, horses and lambs grazing the fields. Beyond the pastures on the borderline of green trees, twin rainbows appear on the horizon.

I finally relax. Phew, after all, it was a good Thursday.