Yesterday, what was meant to be a lovely catch up with a friend I haven't seen in two years turned into a rather terrifying experience.
It was around 1615 when I met up with Lizzie in one of the busiest streets in London -Carnaby Street. The place was even busier yesterday because of Black Friday. Also, a lot of people visit the area this time of the year because of the impressive Christmas lights and unique decorations.
So, we decided to have a quick coffee in Sacred Cafe along Ganton St for some "New Zealand cafe experience" as I have been missing New Zealand coffee lately. This explained why I finished my latte in five minutes.
Deep into our conversation, the waiter interrupted us and asked if he could take our empty cups away. Lizzie and I said "yes, please" in unison. We were talking about going to Primark in Oxford Street to buy some pyjamas, when all of a sudden we heard a commotion from the street. The sight of fleeing crowds, screaming and crying, sent us into a panic mode. And then I heard loud banging and clanking noise, as more and more people entered the cafe. It seemed like the people were being chased. The first thing that occurred to me was the Westminster bridge attack. It couldn't be another terror attack, I thought. But it certainly felt like it was. Then I realised that Carnaby Street is pedestrian only so it couldn't be a vehicle incident. As the cafe staff instructed us to go down the basement, my mind went blank for a second. Lizzie led me down the stairs and when I realised what was happening, I started shaking and my body went cold. People rushed down in a calm manner, and the next thing I knew, we were in a very dark place.
The people having coffee at the basement had no clue what was going on. They looked as confused as we were. Lizzie and I went all the way to the back of the basement. I noticed a lady opened a door. I had a peek and saw bottles of water and some cans inside. My mind suddenly played, "If anything bad happens, Lizzie and I will hide inside the room".
Buffled, I phoned J to tell him not to get out of his office, and that we were in a basement because something happened. As soon as I put the phone down, I heard loud footsteps coming down the stairs. Lizzie told me to sit down. I heard the door shut. It suddenly dawned on me that something terrible has happened. Terror attack sprung to my mind. What if someone went down the basement and started shooting at us? I was shaking terribly and my heart was pounding. I wanted to cry but I couldn't. That was it, we were locked down.
Then a lady next to us caught our attention. She was crying because she got separated from her family, including two children. She was one of the people who ran inside the cafe for safety. She came from Oxford Street. She told us that there were numerous police cars in the area. She didn't know what was going on either. Then someone said gunshots were heard in Oxford St.
I'm not sure how long we were locked down in the basement but it felt so long. When the staff finally said it was safe to go out, Lizzie and I made our way up. Lizzie actually left her suitcase upstairs. Luckily, it was still there when we went back.
We were instructed to avoid the main roads. Fortunately, we could take the back road to our flat. Lizzie doubted at first whether it was safer to stay at the cafe for a few more minutes. In the end, we decided to leave.
We braved the whole situation and started walking. People we met on the streets were on their phone, looking so worried and confused. We walked hand in hand, Lizzie obviously very shaken by what happened. I have calmed down by then. As we got closer to our flat, there was a sense of security. People in our area seemed oblivious of the chaos only one kilometre away.
When we got home, we had cup of tea- because tea makes everything better. Lizzie started crying when she spoke to her parents. I was calm, only because I was in emotional shock. I watched the news while Lizzie spoke to her loved ones. After an hour, it was reported that there was no evidence of gunshots. I felt so relieved. I thanked God no one was hurt this time.
Lizzie and I reflected on what happened afterwards. Now we know how it feels like to be in that situation. It felt so surreal. I felt like I was in a dream. It may have been a false alarm, but what if it wasn't? Lizzie was at the Oxford Tube Station less than an hour before panic erupted in the area. Imagine?
Our reunion may have been cut short, but we were very thankful for the renewed life and friendship. I am glad I was with Lizzie. We are lucky because although we were terrified, at least we were not traumatised.
Yesterday is certainly one of those days I will never forget.