As just about all of you will already know, on Monday morning 1 adult and 3 children were shot at point blank range in front of their school in Toulouse.
As the day wore on it came to light that the weapon that had been used to kill these innocents was the same weapon that had already been used to kill 3 off duty soldiers the previous week. The sense of foreboding blew quickly on the winds from the south to engulf the entire country in a matter of hours.
I can’t imagine how it must have felt to be in the centre of such a vibrant city which in the blink of an eye was ‘locked down’ by the security forces in the aftermath of these tragic events. The effects of this have been, and will be, felt across the nation for some time to come.
Even here some 650 kms to the north of Toulouse the wind has carried the ill tidings and left a chill in the air.
On Tuesday morning at 11am schools across the country fell silent for an act of solemn remembrance. The teacher at Moo’s school explained the circumstances as well as she could but given that most adults cannot make sense of these events, how can you expect 7 and 8 year olds to understand and process what is such an incomprehensible act. And how can you curb the vivid imagination of a child? You can’t.
After school I picked up a rather subdued small person. She clearly had many questions to ask, but did not know how to begin. I gently tried to find out what was troubling her and although I had a fair idea I did not want to put ideas into her head or words into her mouth in case I was wrong.
“mum,…..at school today we talked about the children who were killed.”
“everyone says that it was a bad man that did it”
“why did he do it mum?”
Why did he do it? Why would anyone do that?
I chose my next words with great care.
I explained to her that in this world, whilst most of the people were good and kind, there are some very bad people, who do horrible things that good and kind people cannot understand. No one really knows why he killed those children, but the police and the army were looking for him right this very moment and they would catch him very soon.
For the moment she was satisfied, but I could tell there was more to come.
At bedtime she was reluctant for me to leave her so I stayed a while on her bed while she struggled to verbalise her concerns. And then it came, a soft and fearful voice
“mum, I heard that the bad man stole a motorbike. I think if I knew that the police and army were trying to find me then I would run away. Do you think he will come here?”
It was all I could do not to burst into tears and grab her in a ferocious hug, but thankfully the logical part of my mind took charge and I simply held her hand and told her that she had nothing to fear, she was perfectly safe here as it was far too far away. She drifted off into an uneasy sleep and I cried a few tears as I left her bedroom.
I awoke to the news on Wednesday morning that the police had surrounded the residence of the man who they believed to be responsible for these murders, and breathed a sigh of relief, not only for the country, but that I would be able to reassure small person that the police had found the bad man and that it would soon be over.
I went into her room to wake her and I found her sleeping in the midst of at least 20 of her biggest teddies with her harry potter magic wand clutched in her hand. She told me it was so she could protect herself if the bad man came in the night.
I excused myself to make breakfast and cried a few more tears as I waited for the toaster to pop.
As I write this blog the police are still surrounding a nondescript apartment block in the suburbs of Toulouse. The end of the siege will surely come soon, but the ramifications of this one mans actions will be with us for a very long time. Coming in the midst of an election campaign, the politicians are already drawing their battle lines around this event, this could be a real turning point for the country. Whether it will be a turn for good or for ill is yet to be seen.
It also feels like a pivotal point for small person. She is a clever girl, and we have always tried to educate her realistically in her view of the world, but without making her afraid of all that is out there. But yesterday was the day that the ‘bad men’ became more that just characters in a story book. Yesterday the ‘bad men’ became real.