It’s Monday morning and I’m running late. Walking late. It’s twenty minutes to ten when I turn left from Phillip St into Martin Place.
I don’t look at the Lindt cafe as I pass. My eyes are focused on the Channel Seven news ticker. I can’t remember now what it says but I’m sure Michael Clarke’s hamstring features somewhere.
I love Martin Place, its wide indulgent promenade and its buildings that speak of other times. I always take a moment to breathe it in.
Man Haron Monis is only minutes away. This morbid chapter is already unfolding. By the time I settle at my desk, he has entered the Lindt cafe. The lives of seventeen people going about the mundane business of ordering and serving coffee are now forever changed.
Before long, a large TV screen in our office is showing static footage of a shopfront. This in itself stands out in these days when nothing is still. There is a headline about hostages. This is not real.
I ring my mum. If she has seen the footage, she’ll be worried. She’s not at home. I call my sister-in-law. It’s her birthday but I know better than to contact her before 10am.
My mum and brother are with her. I tell them what’s happening and they turn on their TV. Other families, contacted in similar fashion, do the same. Monis’ influence now ripples beyond the Lindt cafe, beyond Martin Place, into the suburbs, across the country and beyond.
I listen to myself speak to my family. My matter-of-fact tone is at odds with the situation and the concern I hear in their voices. Don’t worry, I tell them. I’m safe. We’re in lockdown. No one can get in. I might as well be discussing the weather.
Besides, this thing that’s happening across the road, which I can see from the window if I walk a few metres, is not real. It’s just something on TV.
My colleagues and I continue working, normalising an abnormal situation. We were warned this day would come. Three months ago, it went from a possibility to a likelihood. And now it’s here.
After a couple of hours, we’re told to leave the office. I don’t want to go outside. We’ve seen reports this may not be an isolated situation. We’re given the choice to work from another city location or from home. It’s a no brainer.
We exit on to Castlereagh St. The city is a stranger. There are sticky-beaks along the police cordon. Go home, I want to say. We are not part of this story.
Pitt St Mall is eerily quiet, especially for December. Half the stores are closed. In the other half a smattering of people go about their Christmas shopping, both scenes surreal.
My family has urged me to go home. Yet I duck into David Jones to buy a Christmas card — and think how stupid I’ll feel if something happens.
I keep walking, past the city, through Hyde Park. Darlinghurst, for the first time ever, feels blessedly suburban.
It is only when I get home that I begin to entertain the what ifs. The random precision of people, time and place sinks in. Our thoughts are with seventeen people. But it could have been any of us.
Twitter is full of speculation, inaccuracies and religious slurs. But then a woman on public transport notices a fellow traveller removing her hijab and encourages her to put it back on. The hashtag #illridewithyou is born. We see our best and worst selves on social media this afternoon.
Walking to school to pick up my daughter, I get teary. Today I don’t take for granted my ability to perform this simple parental duty. I hold her tight. We had arguments this morning, several, all irrelevant now.
She holds me too, for the school had almost been placed in lockdown and the kids, in preparation, were told what was going on.
I want to continue as normal but normal right now is beyond me. I can’t fathom my reaction. A friend cooks us dinner. They lived through London. They understand my catatonia. We have wine and watch TV. Hostages flee the cafe, their faces etched with terror. Our kids worry the gunman will escape.
A bewildered city goes to bed and wakes to the awful news that two brave souls have died, one apparently trying to disarm the gunman and the other, a mother, seeking to protect a pregnant friend.
The gunman too is dead. He has a name now. I don’t want to memorise it, to have it roll easily from my tongue. My nine-year-old, bless her, can find some compassion for him. She has a bigger heart than I do this morning.
I go to work, determined to reclaim my city. It is gouged with blue and white police tape. The sky is suitably overcast. An impromptu shrine of flowers builds outside our office window, a reference point for a city’s grief and solidarity.
In my first meeting of the day, I have a rant about a work deadline. I’m coping with events beyond my comprehension and control by focusing on trivia. We are brittle today. Numb. We feel sick in the stomach. And we can’t understand why we’re all so knackered.
Seventeen people suffered the brunt of this attack, their families too. Yet we are all affected, no matter how far removed. This is what’s becoming apparent twenty-four hours on.
And now it’s Wednesday. The world’s focus turns to Pakistan, where the Taliban has slaughtered 132 school children. It’s a brutal reminder that there are people hell-bent, in the true sense of the word, on destroying the pillars of our civil society.
Our city is scarred, there is no doubt. But we have a choice how we respond. We can turn on each other as Monis did. Or we can embrace the legacy of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson whose final acts and thoughts, it would appear, were for others.
This is still our Sydney.