Sheila Henry is fine, or at least that is what she tells friends who inquire. Almost three years to the day her son was murdered in the London bombings, she is all too aware that people do not really want to know that the searing grief is as acute as ever.
“I say I am ok. I don’t want to get into a conversation because I know they don’t really want to hear. People want me to feel much better because they want to feel better.
“It is like your heart is ruptured. People talk of heart break after a relationship but they mend. This doesn’t get better, it is like an ongoing nightmare, an inward scream. I am just screaming inside,” explained Mrs Henry. “I will be walking along the road and I will stop in my tracks because it is still unbelievable.”
The serene normality of Mrs Henry’s suburban street is a galaxy away from the shattering mayhem of the 7 July 2005 when Christian Njoya Diawara Small, 28, was among 52 innocent commuters killed by the actions of four suicide bombers. But, sitting in her sunny living room, she is nevertheless trapped in that stygian tunnel alongside her son.
“I can’t say that was the day he died. That is too calm, too pretty, too sensitive. It was the day he was killed, murdered, slaughtered,” she explained, her face etched with the agony that still maintains a vice like grip on her life.
But she has, she explains, made some progress and no longer visits his grave at Chingford Mount Cemetery three times a day.
She will, however, be there tomorrow to mark the third anniversary of the bombing with friends and family. She is not yet sure what she will do on Monday morning – the hour her son was killed. In moments of acute pain she simply “isolates” herself.
The past thirty six months are filled with memories so horrific they are almost beyond comprehension. Mrs Henry recalls how she finally found out her son was dead after eight days of agonised searching, the “frozen shock” of seeing his body, ravaged by the bomb and the delay in identification.
Then there was the day, two months later, when she was taken to see the wreckage of the Piccadilly Line tube train and saw the exact spot where her son had been standing at the moment of death.
She describes the moment two years later when she got back on the London Underground for the first time: “I felt pure panic, terror. I was looking at everybody leaving things on the floor. I didn’t want to sit down. I stood at the door in case I fainted.”
And then there was the morning, just months ago, when an envelope landed through her letterbox containing the coroner’s report and post mortem results. For hours she sat alone, painstakingly going through every word.
“It just sent me into a flow of confusion. The post mortem report was so graphic. It said what underpants he was wearing, what limbs were missing, where he was pierced by metal. I read it word by word, trying to absorb it. The tears were automatic, just a stream,” she explained.
Events of the past three years have proved relentless - court cases, memorials, items in the press. In Mrs Henry’s living room sit three wicker boxes containing her son’s possessions. She has never opened them. Her mobile still holds texts from him. The other day she came across his driving licence.
“There has been no let up. There is no time, no room for breathing or grieving. We have not started proper grieving,” she said.
The former lecturer in sociology and psychology is certainly not seeking pity. She never succumbs to the desire to simply pull the duvet over her head and keeps busy working as a manger for a charity. In her spare time she finds it therapeutic to make batik cloths and work for the charity set up in her son’s name.
Christian Small, a 28-year-old advertising planner whose grandparents had emigrated from Jamaica, was a true all-rounder, described by friends as thoughtful and earnest. Academically successful, he was also a talented athlete and had won medals for hurdling. He had worked as a mentor to young black boys in London and spent three months in Africa helping out as a volunteer. Upon his return he adopted the name Njoya Diawara, which means man of great spirit - the words now on his grave, and wrote a travel book Wake Up and Smell the Fufu, which his family published posthumously. All proceeds from sales go to The Njoya Foundation, a charity set up by friends and family to provide successful, professional role models for young black boys.
Mrs Henry smiles as she talks of her ambitious, industrious, inquisitive son, a “real gentleman”. She speaks with equal pride of her daughter Tameka, a 26-year-old engineer, who has become an ever present companion and source of comfort
It is a sad irony that Mrs Henry and her ex-husband Charles Small, chief executive of a centre dedicated to promotion of ethnic culture, brought their children up to be open-minded, well travelled and tolerant only for their son to die in an act of intolerance and fanaticism.
Like many families, Mrs Henry wants a public inquiry into the events of that day: “I personally would like to know that all precautions were taken and if not, why not. If they knew who they were and they actually watched them and they were supposed to be dangerous, I think it would probably bring some kind of closure to know that the Government, the police and everybody else had done everything they could have done.
“It is important to make sure checks are in place to make sure it never happens again. It is too overwhelming to even think about."
Wake Up and Smell the Fufu is available from the Njoya Foundation.Reuse content