Friday, 18 January 2008

He saved my life


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.

31 comments:

Grilled Pizza said...

Elise thats an amazing story, you were very lucky!
You definitely owe him one!

Bridget said...

What a fanstastic story Elise!

An affirmation that the pressie I left for you on my blog is well deserved!

Peter Mc said...

I thought where I was from was bad but that is quite scary! Makes me feel quite niave about the world too! Probably not what you'd wanna hear but it does make for a good story!

Glugster said...

For all the bad and ugly people ugly out there, there's always good to counter it. It's heroes like Nathaniel that make the world a better place.

If it wasn't for him, we would not have had the pleasure of reading about your experiences. Please thank him from all of us.

Kitty said...

What a star Nathaniel is and was. People like that are what make life all the better, and I'm so glad you found him again.

Take care. x

Malach the Merciless said...

Wow, around here they shoot you in the wrong neighborhoods, God Bless America

i am the diva said...

this story made me weepy - you're so lucky to have a real life guardian angel.

Kathleen Mortensen said...

You are one lucky girl. Nathaniel was your angel of mercy. We all need to thank him, else we wouldn't have the pleasure of knowing you and reading your splendid work.
Kat

Slyde said...

wow, another amazing story. You're lucky to be alive...

The Divine Miss M said...

Oh my gosh, that is so hectic Elise.

I get a silly scared feeling living in London sometimes; where I think that if I even as much as look at a group they are going to try and beat the crap out of me for no apparent reason.

Teenage gangs freak me out somewhat - and that is saying a lot considering that I come from SA!

I'm glad though that you're alright and haven't let it affect you in a negative way. You just got on with your life and didn't give them any satisfaction. Does suck though that it was kept from the newspaper and so many others like you too. England doesn't always like admitting the ugly things that happen here.

Elise said...

England has always had a "nice" image... Most people don't know what its really like. London is one of the most unfriendliest places. Nobody wants to help...

Urban violence is high even with less then 20% of all incidents reported.

Its easy to hide it and show the unrealistic "cricket and tea" image or the "east-end Cockney gangster" image.

lotus07 said...

Wow.....fascinating story.

The Divine Miss M said...

That is so true Elise. People just turn a complete blind eye to what is around them.

I've seen people just sitting on a tube pretending like nothing is happen when one man started hurling abuse at a muslim lady (in tradition dress) for being a terrorist and threatening to kill her. I got off at the next and called the guard so the train didn't go any further and he was taken off.

As a female (and not a large one) I didn't want to say anything directly to him incase he flipped out and starting hitting me - but I definitely tried to do something as opposed to the other people who just were pretending like nothing was happening.

Elise said...

I'm glad there are some people left like you Miss M. You helped someone. Calling someone doesn't get anyone into trouble but most wouldn't even do that...x

The Divine Miss M said...

I know, it's really scary how people just turn a blind eye!

I suppose it is sometimes self preservation as you don't want to get involved.

My good friend asked some guy to stop hassling his female friend on NYE and got punched really severly for it - afterwards he said to me "perhaps I shouldn't have said anything, but I wanted to stand up for my friend"

People are often worried about what consequence will happen to them if they interfere :(

Elise said...

I'm not suprised! If people are hurt just because they're brave enough to stand up for themselves and others I can see why so many are afraid.

Its not fair that most people live in fear of attackers that are still children!

Kathleen Mortensen said...

Elise, I know you stopped by earlier - and read yesterday's post, but you just missed out a nice, lighthearted poem for today. We all need a little levity at this time of year. Come on back!
Kat

B.E. Earl said...

Ridiculous story. It's great that you ran into him again.

Do you think you would recognize any of the girls if you saw them once more?

Michelle Hix said...

Wow Elise! I had to read it twice I was so stunned. What an amazing story!

Linda and her Surroundings said...

You are a lucky, lucky girl and the good thing was that another person was willing to put himself at risk for you. That is why we always have to remember that there a lots of good people in this world too.

I bet those bitchy girls are doing time somewhere or something like that.

Clueless Cat said...

Wow, that is a crazy story!! I'm glad you were ok, and thank god for Nathaniel! It's nice that you got to catch up again :)

astrogalaxy said...

Elise,
It's touching!
Glad that you both were able to see each other again. That's really nice.

roentarre said...

This is a very sad story but a vivid reflection of our modern world. Your stories never failed to amaze me. A great time reading your blog as always :)

lewisham kate said...

Hi, thats quite a horrific experience you went through, unfortunately your not the only one. I know grown men that have had similar things happen to them....by girls!
I am so glad someone steped into help you and that you have remained friends.

MizMell said...

What an incredible story! You were lucky indeed to have made this friend.

Cocaine Princess said...

Nathaniel- Guardian Angel.

XOXOXOXO,
Cocaine Princess

sweetass RSA said...

it's the unsung hero's of this world, like nataniel that warms my heart...!! wow what a story... i don't understand what kind of a person would hurt another and leave them for dead... shocking

Ruby said...

wow! amazing story elise!

it's fabulous to know that there are still some heroes out there:)

Lopz said...

That is so true about London being a dangerous and unfriendly place. I mean, of course it has its positives, but so do Cape Town and Jo'burg, and everyone gives cities in SA such a hard a time. I mistakenly believed when I came here that nothing bad could happen to me, and although I haven't been the victim of a violent crime, I've seen enough to know that it's no better than my home country really, just different. Glad to read a crime story with a positive outcome, and glad you're ok and you got through the emotional trauma as well as the physical :-)

hayley-emsley said...

Elise,

How lovely is Nathaniel, there should be more like him! Bless him! I hope you will keep in touch with him, you never know when he will need you, and you could be there for him. You are so lucky that you survived, i can't imagine what you went through.

Love Hayley x

Grilled Pizza said...

Where are you woman???