I ran into an old friend on Wednesday night. Not just any old friend but a friend that saved my life years ago.
I stopped off at a Tesco Express on my way home from work to pick up some bread. The mixed raced man at the till had a nasty scar beneath his left eye. And a dimpled smile. For a moment we just stared at each other as memories flooded back.....
Ten years ago my best friend Amy's mum died. She went to live with her father in South London. At the time South London seemed like a completely different city. There were hardly any tube stations going South of the river. Not many people from North of the Thames ventured to South London unless they knew people there.
Amy moved to Peckham in Southwark, the borough in the centre of the two neighbouring boroughs; Lambeth and Lewisham. All three areas were almost as bad as each other. I had always had an impression of Peckham being the same as it was in "Only Fools and Horses." It was nothing like it.
To get to Amy's house I had to change buses on Cold Harbour Lane in Brixton in Lambeth. Although the side streets in Brixton were probably home to crack houses and gun related murders, this was not the worst part of my journey.
The worst part was when I arrived in Peckham. Peckham, at the time, was full of rival urban gang members. The most well known at the time were the "Young Peckham Boys". They hung out in groups of over twenty, wearing hoodies to hide their faces and attacked and mugged people as they past.
South London was so different to where I was from. I didn't even realise there were dangerous gangs in London. I had always thought the gangs in London were like the East-End organised criminals like the Krays. The type that don't attack unless absolutely necessary.
The South London Press Newspaper was always full of stories of random stabbings and gun related murders in and around Southwark, Lambeth and occasionally Lewisham. The incidents never even made local news. The worst one I read was an attack in a Church at a Christening. A woman holding the baby was shot in the head and died immediately. Her purse was stolen.
These people were alien. They were so intimidating that I crossed the road several times on one strip just to avoid walking past anyone. I was only 15 and I was terrified of being pulled into an alley.
On one occasion when I was on a bus home from visiting Amy a group of teenage girls got on. As they brushed past me one of them tripped over my school bag. I apologised and moved the bag onto my lap. She turned and stared at me. I avoided her stare and looked out of the window. She kissed her teeth and pulled me to my feet.
"Oi what did you say?"
Her face was almost touching mine. I didn't know what to do. I had never had to deal with a confrontation about something so small. I tried to smile and apologise again. My heart was beating so fast.
I remember being pushed onto the floor and I remember being kicked by all of the girls. They didn't stop. My hair was pulled so hard that I felt chunks being ripped out of my skull. One of the girls constantly hit me in the face with a plastic bottle. I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my side. It felt so cold. Shockingly cold. I instinctively held my side. Blood oozed through my fingers. I began shaking uncontrollably.
Although the bus had stopped, nobody on the bus moved to help. I think a few just got off and walked away.
Through my blurry vision I remember seeing a tall guy jump on to the bus and pull a girl away. She turned around and stabbed him in the face with her penknife before jumping off the bus with the other girls closely behind. The guy sank down next to me holding his eye and crying out in pain. Blindly I reached over and gripped his hand. My last thought before I slipped into unconsciousness was that I didn't want to bleed to death without somebody holding me.
I woke up in hospital with my family at my side. I had 18 stitches in my side, a few bruised ribs, a cut above an eyebrow, bruising around my eyes and a few small bald patches from where my hair had been ripped out. The doctors said I had been very lucky. Apparently the guy who had also been injured held me and put pressure on my wound before the ambulance had arrived to stop the bleeding.
His name is Nathaniel and I owe him my life. He stopped and helped when nobody else would. Even though he got hurt he still helped me. He's four years older than me and we stayed friends up until I finished school. Seeing him again on Wednesday was amazing. We went for a drink after his shift and caught up on life. A life that I may not have had if he had not stopped.
For a long time after I recovered from the attack I thought about what had happened. It was awful that people would hurt others in such a way without reason. Although the police were very helpful they never caught the girls that did it. The story was kept away from the press like so many others.
The first incident in that I remember reaching national news was two years later when a young boy was stabbed in the leg with a glass bottle outside Peckham library. His name was Damilola Taylor and he died at 10 years old.