observations and opinion
Ottawa, on the morning of terror and the morning after
Corporal Nathan Cirillo was already at his post yesterday morning when I drove past him. I sat in some traffic and then parked. He was still at his post, just a block away, when I got my coffee at Starbucks. The morning crew was there – Samantha, Stephanie and the other two whose names I haven’t learned yet. I got my Americano and went back to the office. A few minutes later, Corporal Cirillo was shot.
My office door was closed at the time, so my colleague and I – meeting on a file – missed the security announcements. When she got back to her desk messages had already started to pile up, asking if she was okay. That was the course of the day – telling people you were okay and checking on others. I circled my part of the floor, went downstairs, just to satisfy myself some people weren’t out there in the madness. One way or the other, they were accounted for. And so we stayed here, locked down, while the craziness ensued outside our windows. This is part of what terrorism means, I guess: being trapped inside and hoping other people are too.
Corporal Cirillo was pronounced dead in the early afternoon.
Later, once the worst seemed to be over and people began to be released from the imprisonment of lock down, I ventured back to Starbucks. The road was still blocked by police, but pedestrians were able to get through on the sidewalk. It was a weirdly beautiful, bright Fall day – the air warm and soft. At the coffee shop, still standing behind that counter all those hours later, was the morning crew.
“We closed for a while” said one of the girls. I bet you did, I thought, considering the havoc right outside their windows. “But then we re-opened” she continued. “The afternoon shift people couldn’t come in, so we stayed.” She looked sleepy and a little strained, but the crew had already returned to some form of joshing, comfortable normality. “I get to go home in four minutes” she said, happy at the thought of it. I looked at my phone – it said 4:56 p.m. She had probably been there twelve hours.
It was a long day for everyone in Ottawa, and a long night. Once the curbside chaos subsided and the rumours began to shake down into something more concrete (one shooter, not three, two sites not three, nothing at the shopping centre after all) the city fell weirdly quiet. People were uncomfortable on the street and so stayed indoors. A couple of colleagues were not shy about accepting a lift home – just a few blocks – so they didn’t have to walk through the downtown. It was already a ghost town. In all likelihood, a bad night for Ottawa restaurants. I was glad to get home, even if all we could do was watch the news in silence, replaying our day over and over again.
The day broke still and uneasy here. People say they feel “numb” and it’s true – it’s as if novocaine was sprayed in the air. Doubtless there is rage on the radio, and handwringing. And there will be much talk about “are we still the same Ottawa?” and “how could this have happened?” That chatter will subside soon enough, like yesterday’s chaos, back into something like normality. For some of us.
The morning crew is back at Starbucks today. But Corporal Cirillo isn’t standing at his post. And a little boy won’t see his daddy again.