LONDON - Silence is not easy to come by in London, ever, especially on the streets at noon in the capital's center, where the sounds of buses and taxis and people and life thump 24 hours a day, every day, like a vibrant heart.
Silence, though, cloaked London for two very long minutes yesterday, a pause and a sound that said as much about this city as anything before.
Tears were in no short supply. Neither was a living, breathing sense of unity.
Hokey as that may sound, if you lived here, even if you were just visiting, you could feel it.
Earlier in the week, leaders had called for Londoners to fall silent precisely at noon yesterday, and for two minutes that is what they did.
At Trafalgar Square, which so often has served as the meeting quarters for Londoners to protest and to pray, to sing and to celebrate, people began to gather well before noon. They stood in front of big, white letters on a stark, black background that said "London United."
On July 6, the day before the bombings of the city's transit system, Londoners had been urged to come to this square as the 2012 Olympic city was announced. And when London was named the winner, confetti rained down on those who had gathered, as they danced and cheered and could not believe it.
Then came the morning after.
Gathering in sorrow
Yesterday, a week after the bombings, Trafalgar Square was the main meeting point again, but people were also making their way to the King's Cross subway station, where the bombers apparently split up on their way to try to break this city. Londoners gathered on the streets of Finsbury Park, the neighborhood where so many victims had begun that horrific day. Or Londoners simply stopped where they were, in city parks or the shops of Kensington or West Brompton or Canary Wharf, and they came into the streets and stood together, and if they talked at all they were chatting quietly, waiting for noon.
The prime minister paused at Downing Street. The queen paused at Buckingham Palace.
People gathered in and around Leeds, where some of the suspected bombers came from. People gathered in many parts of the world, in the United States, in Ireland, in Spain and in Bali, where people have lost their own to such attacks.
Later in the day, as the sun began its slow descent and a rare, hot London day began to cool, speeches would be made, poetry recited in a vast vigil. Tears would fall from the chin of Mayor Ken Livingstone as he spoke of the love for his city.
At the vigil, Ben Okri would read a poem he wrote years ago about London, almost prescient in its words:
"Tomorrow's music sleeps in undiscovered orchestras, in unmade violins, in coiled strings. ...
Tell everyone the idea is to function together, as good musicians would in undefined future orchestras.
I want you to tell everyone through trumpets played with the fragrance of roses that a mysterious reason had brought us all together, here, now, under the all- seeing eye of the sun."
People cried at the mayor's words and as Okri read his poem, and it seemed like something London needed. But it seemed to need, too, to stop, to reflect, to go silent.
So, at Trafalgar earlier in the day, the square continued to fill.
By 11:45, streams of people were filing out the doors of surrounding office buildings, and from restaurants and newsstands and hospitals and jewelery shops and clothing stores and from the red, double-decker buses lining every street.
Even the pubs emptied.
Men in suits and women in business skirts walked toward the square's center, toward the giant column with Lord Nelson perched atop, together with men and women in janitor uniforms, and bike couriers and cooks and doctors and nurses, and they joined others in bright, yellowish vests who appeared from below, streaming from the subway stations where they worked into the sunshine.
They stood together, side by side, heel to toe, hundreds deep. Minutes before noon, the maddening traffic went still.
Taxis pulled over, and cabbies and passengers stood together on the street. Bus drivers cut their engines. People in cars and delivery vehicles did the same. The FedEx packages would absolutely, positively be there - a little later.
Above, no planes were heard. They were grounded for the silence.
'Let us send a message'
George Psaradakis, the driver of the No. 30 bus that was blown up last week, stood before a microphone and spoke of the victims and then of Londoners.
"In today's silence we remember them. With quiet dignity and respect we show our deep contempt for those who planted the bombs and those who masterminded them. As we stand together in silence, let us send a message to the terrorists - you will not defeat us and you will not break us."
Then the bell of Big Ben pealed across Westminster, across blocks of the city, radios and televisions went silent, and the people gathered in Trafalgar Square and throughout London and so many other places, went silent, too.
Fifty-three people were dead by the time London paused yesterday. Many more people still lay in hospitals, some fighting for their lives. By the end of the day, another of the wounded succumbed, raising the death toll to 54.
The prime minister and the queen and the mayor of London have made speeches since the attacks. They have called for justice, but not vengeance. They have talked of working hard to make London safer, but time and again they have spoken of doing so without sacrificing the freedoms, the way of life, that draws so many from around the world to this city.
Without fail, they have spoken of how to best honor the dead, of how to best defeat those who would attack them - by being aware, not cowed. By simply carrying on.
Britain marches on
At two minutes after noon, the silence in Trafalgar Square was broken by a bell that chimed twice, gently.
The sounds of the city's heart began to thump again, loudly.
Drivers and passengers stepped back into taxis.
Bus drivers started their engines.
The workers in bright vests went down into the Underground, where the bombs exploded only a week ago.
The thousands who had streamed from their jobs streamed back to them.
The week had indeed been trying. But it was time to get back to work.