The murder of a 16 year old girl, apparently unprovoked, should be equally affecting regardless of the circumstance. The truth is, that’s not the case. Today was a stark reminder to me of how locally our lives are lived. Regardless of how worldly you believe your outlook to be, how well travelled you believe you are – events near home, in places you have lived your own life, shake you in a way that any number of horrors elsewhere in the world do not. This isn’t to say horrors further afield are not upsetting, tragic or infuriating, they very often are, but they are necessarily more abstract than events occuring in your immediate frame of experience. Emotionally distant as much as geographically.
Today, Christina Edkins was stabbed to death on a number 9 bus on the Hagley Road near the centre of Birmingham. I did not know her, but I feel strangely like I did.
I grew up in Halesowen. The number 9 was my bus route. Into Halesowen from our house on the Abbeyfields or up Manor Lane to friends houses at first. As I got older into and out of Birmingham for work and for play. I must have ridden this bus route hundreds of times and I would have ridden it most frequently when I was Christine’s age. We all know there are bus routes best avoided (if you are fortunate enough to have the choice), whilst it has its share of unusual characters as all routes do, the 9 is not one of them. Sadness for those close to Christina was mixed with no little shock.
Later the news emerged that Christina was on her way to school at Leasowes High School. Leasowes was my school. I am now too far removed from the school and the community around it to know her, her friends or her family. But 15 years ago I would have done. 15 years ago she would have been my classmate. We may not have been friends, but we would have been classmates. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to see a young life of your acquaintance snatched away so viciously when you too are so very young. I think back to my classmates, I imagine how each would have reacted to a death of one of us, how each would have coped. Some would pretend they weren’t but I can’t think of anyone who would not have been affected. Many would have been affected so deeply that their whole life’s course may change.
The school made statements of condolence to the family and talked of support offered to the pupils. Eloquently leading the school response was the Head Teacher, Neil Shaw. Mr Shaw was my English teacher. If you are a regular reader of this blog you presumably believe there is at least some small merit in my writing. That is due, in no small measure, to Mr Shaw’s teaching. He was my favourite and best teacher. No Head Teacher should have to deal with this but few could be better equipped to do so. It is a strange and moving thing to see a man who so inspired you in the words of Heaney and Shakespeare delivering, with calm solemnity, such simple but difficult words of condolence.
I don’t visit Halesowen much these days. My parents have moved away. But by coincidence I was going there today to visit a friend, a former classmate, who was recently run off his bike not all that far from the school. I drove there in the pounding rain listening to the latest news. The suspected killer had been arrested. To get to my friends house I had to drive up Kent Road past the school. The rain still poured as I drove past the huddle of young figures stood in the dark outside the firmly-closed school gates, hoods up to protect from the rain and shield from the world’s harshness. Leaving flowers, messages, reading what others had written, comforting each other. 15 years ago, we could have been stood there.
I’m not sure why I’m writing this really. I’m certainly not trying to make this about me. I think what I’m trying to say is that every young person who is stabbed, assaulted, shot, glassed, bottled, raped – whatever, is on somebody’s childhood bus route. Somebody’s English teacher is now the Head and has to try and comfort the family and the kids. And of course, most important of all, they are somebody’s daughter, sister, niece, granddaughter. They will never have the chance to be someone’s mother or grandmother.
Whilst it might not be possible to feel as deeply about deaths such as this when they are further from home, we should at the very least try and remember that every single one is close to home for somebody. Indeed, for many.
My thoughts tonight are with all those who knew Christine and will miss her.