Pictures had emerged by then of the 22 dead — mostly children. Mostly young girls. They have names, faces, families who will never recover, grieving communities, schools and friendship groups and places where they belonged, histories that are known and told and held.
The little eight-year-old one, Saffy. The boyfriend and girlfriend still in their teens. The young blogger in the dungarees. The girl with the glasses.
They all have names and stories, but no longer lives. Their lives matter to us, even though we didn’t know them, because they look like us, they live near us, they could have been us.
They could have been our kids on a fun night out at a pop concert, innocuous and joy-filled until, in the space of an exhale, everyone was killed by a madman. The people who died in Manchester are us.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported a day or two later of 34 deaths – “most of them toddlers” – who drowned in the Mediterranean off Libya. These were not the only drowning deaths last week in the Med – our holiday sea has become an unchartered graveyard - it’s just that they were toddlers. Toddlers like Alan Kurdi, whose name we know, because of that photo of his body in the arms of a policeman. Except last week there were more than 30 of them, small, anonymous dead children. We will never know their names or nationalities, because they are not us. There are no records, no clues. They have no stories, no smiling photos, nothing for anyone to hold onto in their grief.
A dead child is a dead child. It’s natural that the nearer to us death happens, the worse it seems, but children being killed by the actions of adults holds equal horror everywhere. Last month, 68 children killed in a suicide bomb – do we know where? Can we remember? Did it actually happen? (Yes – in Syria – the children being evacuated to something called safety, except they never arrived).
It doesn’t even make our headlines anymore. Small paragraphs, maybe, but not headlines. And yet there they are: dozens and dozens, hundreds and hundreds, killed in market squares, school buses, public places, drowned in the sea, fleeing the everyday killing.
Nameless, stateless, unknown children. But every bit as murdered as those beautiful kids in Manchester. Every bit as dead.
Who are they? A new novel being published soon, Twice The Speed of Dark by LR Allison, imagines who these anonymous dead kids – and their families – might be.
The dead are given imagined names, imagined biographies, because in our media they are just numbers. Far away numbers who are not us and not like us.
Except of course they are us. All children are ours, no matter who we are, no matter where we are, from Manchester to Mosul, all children are our children. Choose love.