By Tia Marshall
It should have been a normal Monday. The start of my GCSEs. The only thing going through my head was ‘what if I fail?’ But I experienced a night which scarred me so deeply that I couldn’t focus through exams.
I couldn’t stop wondering how different my life would have been if I had got the train. Would I have been here to write this letter?
My dad convinced me to let him drive us to Manchester Arena. I’m thankful he did.
He walked me and my friends, Lauren and Mae, to a street across the road. “This is where we will meet after the concert,” he told us. We had seated tickets so we arrived 30 minutes before doors were due to open at 6.30pm. But there were already thousands of young fans, all dressed in cat ears like Ariana Grande. They had been here since 3pm.
I had saved up months of wages just to afford the cheapest tickets. So many fans had been counting down the days until they’d see Ariana for over a year. I can’t explain how surreal it was to be at her concert. I danced. I cried. I sang. I had lost my voice before the concert had even finished.
You run thinking this is it. This is where I die.
10:35pm. We left the concert hall to make our way over to the merchandise stand. The last thing I remember seeing was a boy in drag. He must have felt so accepted to be himself here. Then a low grumble erupted like it was engulfing us from behind. The floor shook as if a train was passing. Silence. Only for a second. Then it was just people screaming. Falling. You run thinking this is it. This is where I die.
But then survival instincts kick in and you remember that there is a dad out there who has no idea if his daughter is alive. I trampled on people who had fallen on the floor because no matter how many times I’d told myself I’d be happy to die, I didn’t want to really.
Nobody knew if there was another bomb. Nobody had any idea what had happened. I think I did deep down. When we got outside, I grabbed my friends’ hands and we sprinted. I was in front pulling them as far away from the arena as possible. Adrenaline does weird things in these situations. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t shaking. I was simply determined to get my friends to safety because I knew this would affect them more than me. Lauren had been anxious all night and my head was telling me I need to make sure they were okay first.
I remember we stopped beside the National Football Museum. My dad had no idea where we were. All I could tell him was “Google it! We’re at the football museum in a park!” I can’t imagine how frustrating it was for him to have lost us in the middle of Manchester unaware if the situation was safe or not. We were shouting at each other over the phone, him distressed he couldn’t find us and me terrified.
Whose blood is this?
In the park was the first time all three of us stopped to process what was going on. We saw a family reunite across from us and that’s when we all burst into tears. I grabbed the both of them and we huddled each other so tight, like we never wanted to let each other go.
A girl came up to us. She was so confused. Her grey jumper was stained with blood that wasn’t hers. “What is going on? Whose blood is this?” she asked. The girl hadn’t even been to the concert. “We don’t know, something’s happened at the Arena” is all we could say.
There is nothing I could have done that would have prepared me for what happened that night. I shouldn’t have been a missing child. I shouldn’t have seen dead bodies, or blood streaming down a girl’s face because a bolt was blown into her head.
It should have been the best night of my life. Instead, I’m left wondering why the sound of fireworks makes me flinch, or why I don’t trust big venues or why I feel that sudden anxiety when someone leaves a bag alone. Especially backpacks. You used a backpack to keep the bomb strapped to you. There was nothing suspicious. You could have been waiting for someone, like my dad. But you killed twenty-two people instead.