Harris, in his alleyway at 11.20am knew none of this. The delivery van was still blocking the alley, and water was pouring from a ruptured pipe in the wall of the wounded coffee shop; the alley was a mass of puddles and chunks of masonry. He tried his mum again: again no luck. Putting his phone onto a battery-saving mode, he weighed up his options. As far as he knew, a terrorist attack was ongoing and the city was a dangerous place. He had found temporary shelter, but realised it was pretty restrictive if he was spotted by someone wishing to do him harm. He would be better, he reasoned, in a more open space, but one with plenty of hard cover. How would the parks be? Would they be as hectic as the streets? With no way of knowing, he set off down the other end of the alley, where the passage was narrower, and emerged in Chinatown, staying on the narrow streets. Things were quieter here. Helicopters were still hovering overhead, and the roar of crowds could be heard, but it all felt a little more distant, like the back streets of a busy seaside town in August. Harris felt himself relax, and he considered his next move. If he headed down past Piccadilly, he could get to St James park. Or, with a little more effort, he could head to Hyde Park, which was bigger and a little further out, and therefore possibly safer. He decided to head towards the West End, skirting Piccadilly as much as possible. He fought against crowds in several places, and Pall Mall turned out to be almost as busy as Charing Cross, but he found himself in Green Park by midday, discovering it to be relatively quiet. A few people he’d met on the way had given him snippets of information. It seemed that the terrorists were brutal, exacting physical, manual violence on Londoners rather than shooting or bombing them. Apparently one person had seen a group of individuals being eaten alive by their assailants. Harris’ head span. He still couldn’t get hold of his mother, and was still no closer to discovering what was going on. He’d realised the Guardian had gone down at about 11.50, when an error screen kept being returned. Twenty minutes later, his signal had gone altogether, including his 4G. He was without means of communication, huddled under an oak in the least revered royal park in London. He quietly sobbed, hiding himself as best he could under his coat as rain began to fall.
A sudden flash and eruption of flame interrupted his misery. It came from somewhere around Park Lane, and was joined with a second plume of smoke and fire. The sound reached him a moment later, a heavy thudding roar. Pieces of flaming debris were scattering around him, hurled into the air by the explosions. Harris could see tall flames emerging from the source of the chaos, licking the walls of the high hotels and apartment blocks, a smear of black smoke on the blue sky. So it was terrorists, he thought. They were going for the symbols of wealth and inequality, no doubt. He glanced across the trees to spot the heights of the Shard, peeping over the oaks and rooftops; a moment of clarity came in the realisation that he was sitting only a few hundred yards from Buckingham Palace. He began to run.
He was stopped by another immense crowd of people, many of whom were screaming and crying. They were jostling and elbowing past one another, like an aggressive glacier. There was no hope of crossing the stream, and Harris had no desire to join it. There was no choice but to wait, so he ducked into a clothes shop that seemed to have been looted – garments were strewn on the floor and windows were smashed; no one was around. The place smelled stale, with a tangy odour Harris put down to the vandals. He squatted in a corner, hidden by some racks of jeans, and took out his phone again, only to discover there was still no signal of any kind. Turning it off to preserve battery, he looked around at his situation. The steady stream of people continued outside, and he could see the other side of the road, where people were leaning from windows, frantically looking at the events unfold. There was a brief flash of blue lights and a moment of a siren which then died to nothing. The shop was wrecked. He hadn’t noticed how the ceiling was caving in, wires and light fittings dangling; glimpses of upstairs apartments with potted plants and book cases could be seen through the apertures. There seemed to be no logical reason for such destruction. Harris pondered this for a moment and then noticed a figure, watching him from the far corner of the shop, a silhouette against the bright inlaid lighting advertising Givenchy and Boss scents. Harris held up his hand in greeting, but the person didn’t move. They appeared to be looking intently in his direction, and seemed totally uninterested in the crowds outside; Harris shifted his weight to offset the cramp that was developing in his thighs and tried speaking. “Hiya, you ok?”