To the mother of Saffie Roussos,
What a beautiful little girl you had, I can see that from the photo in the news. A photo which, never in your wildest nightmares, did you think would be an epitaph. What a gorgeous little face, what a cheeky grin, what an incredible life she surely had ahead of her, until a bomb sent shrapnel through her dreams and yours, and detonated a lifetime of grief and sorrow.
I hear you are in hospital, also injured after the attack. But of course the pain you are going through now is nothing to what you face in the coming days, months, years. Every birthday. Every Christmas. Every May 22nd. I honestly can’t imagine what you will feel. I don’t want to imagine. I wish there was a way to contract out suffering; I would gladly take a little for you, just to make it bearable.
I am from Manchester too. My two daughters grew up in here in New Zealand, but Manchester is the backdrop of all my memories from birth to my early 20s. It’s where I stood every morning, knees blue from cold and hood pulled low against the northern drizzle, at the bus stop waiting to go to school. It’s where I ate parkin and treacle toffee on freezing November nights around a burning Guy Fawkes. It’s where I had my first kiss and got stupidly sick on Cinzano in the dingy red haze of the city’s nightclubs. It’s where I went on my first anti-war protest – the first of many. It’s also the scene of happy gatherings at home, where my South American mother, ever the party butterfly, would invite friends for dinners and drinks; it was a place ever alive with laughter and music.
My mum would talk to anyone and everyone and that, along with her work as a nurse at Altrincham hospital, earned her a wide network of friends, many of them Latino like her, but also from the Philippines, and Italy, and Eastern Europe, and Turkey, and of course the local neighbourhood. I am so proud of my multi-cultural background and upbringing, and when I read about the attack I was shocked, then afraid. Afraid that this terrible, terrible act would seep like poison through the city’s psyche, that there would be distrust, and hatred, and bitterness, and that the noxious politics of fear – of the anti-Muslim far-right – would gain ground.
But then I read about Mancunians rallying round after the attack, of people opening up their homes to concert-goers after the bombing, and of Manchester’s good citizens turning their anger on those trying to profit from the attack. When the far-right English Defence League turned up outside the city’s Arndale Centre the morning after the explosion, waving English flags, they were met with cries of ‘The people of Manchester don’t stand with your xenophobia and racism'. ‘The people of Manchester are going to stick together, no matter what religion you follow, no matter what the colour of the skin is. We’re not going to stand with people like you'.
Of course not. We Northerners don’t stand for any nonsense.
But for you, Saffie’s mother, this might all seem like so many words. Rhetoric and noble sentiment, none of which will bring back your little girl. Oh what can I say, except that I am so sorry. And that I send you my love… as I do to all the mothers and fathers who have lost loved ones through acts of war – from Syria to Sudan, from Afghanistan to Iraq, from the mosques of the Middle East all the way to Manchester Arena. And I wouldn’t blame you at all for having hatred in your heart; I really wouldn’t. I don’t even want to think of the person I would become if someone took away my child.
But I hope, I sincerely do, that peace and love will prevail – because that is the only way forward for you and I, for your children, and all our children. I think Manchester knows that too.
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