How quickly our lives turn.
It doesn’t take long. All it takes is a text.
Like the character in the hypothetical in the Prologue to the book – the parent who ventured into the school corridor with the gunman – I was waiting, filling in time, wasting it as we all do casually glancing at my mobile screen, emails, tweets, texts.
It was a recess in a murder trial. I was doing my other job, as barrister, and the case had been going well (in the circumstances), our case theory winning the day, opposition witnesses crumbling, being exposed as liars. It was looking good. One of those (all too rare) times when the legal momentum has tangibly turned and the tide is running in your direction. I was sitting with my junior Sadiq, an enthusiastic young Asian barrister from the north. We’d brainstormed and laboured for months in pre-trial prep for just this. All was good. I was a long way from home, but still all was good – when the flurry of messages appeared on my mobile. Coming out of court, I’d I switched it on and there they were: message after message after message.
Pls ring immed.
Something had happened. I rang. I was told, as people always are in such situations, to do the impossible: ‘Try not to worry, but your daughter has been involved in an accident.’ I disobeyed; I failed to follow the instructions. I did worry. And in that moment, everything changed. It didn’t take long.
Sadiq was in the middle of a blow-by-blow retelling of a crunch concession we’d extracted from a key opposition witness when I got the first message. Later Sad told me how suddenly, unnervingly, when he looked up, it was a different person standing in front of him.
Even as the chaos was unfurling around me, one part of my mind was somehow analysing what was taking actually place. I ask for no credit and deserve none: it was almost certainly displacement behaviour, trying to intellectualise the situation, anaesthetise myself from it in those first few raw moments when nothing seems real.
During the preceding weeks of the murder trial, my headspace – what Harvard economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan calls ‘bandwidth’ – had been completely taken over, used up, by the most minuscule details of the case evidence. During a trial you live it, breathe it. It is your reality for those days and weeks. Everything else recedes. And then instantaneously it is overrun. By what on this occasion? By, I think, the Kinsman.
Suddenly it was impossible for more than a few seconds for me not to think of my daughter lying in a hospital trauma unit being fed morphine. Biology beat the Bar. Several hundred miles away my daughter lay in an emergency ward. She was born in our home, came in a glorious rush. So we didn’t have to go to the hospital. And now we did. This wasn’t what parenthood promised. I’d spent a significant part of the previous weeks of the trial accusing the investigating police officers of lying. As I sped towards the south-west on the overnight train, they sent their best wishes via Sadiq. Everyone was brilliant. Everyone got it. Everyone understood.
What did they understand? What can we?
What happened in an accident on a country lane in the south of England, while I was cross-examining in a murder trial in an industrial city in the north, triggered the Kinsman. Again it came.
When I began writing this book, all that time ago, sitting on my 14th-floor perch high above Harvard, I never imagined that the Kinsman would have entered my life with such ferocity. It is, I know you’ll understand, a dismaying sight to see one’s child in an A&E bed with a morphine drip to control her pain and metal rods to force straight her shattered leg. Around her, aside from the unnerving purr of machines and monitors, silence. For those few fraught days, that became my world, and all of the world I could imagine being part of.
Which leads me back to the school corridor. And the gunman.
About the Kinsman: here.
Where to get the book: here.