The first waves of people are those killed on the day, in that brief period of madness that wiped so many out at once. They’re buried swiftly and efficiently, funerals taking place like a factory procession, one after the other. The companies in charge make a fortune.
There seems to be worldwide delusion that, once they are put to rest, the horrific event can be forgotten. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ becomes the unspoken motto of the survivors. The mothers who take up jogging to fill the space where the school run used to be; the young girls who shuffle to class with shoddy, self-made plaits, imitating the skilled hands of absent parents; the underpaid workers who accept extra hours without complaint, arriving to the Monday morning shift as if no one else ever did. All silently wonder, ‘how could this have happened?’, but no one speaks out, there is no demand for responsibility. How can they when they are all responsible?
Each has blood on their hands.
The coffin makers work on overdrive, their profits skyrocketing. They sit together swigging grimly at an expensive bottle of wine, trying to forget the baby pink coffin they’d shined to perfection earlier that day, no bigger than half a meter. Trying to forget that it was the fifth one that week.
The education system is left in ruins, dependent on a generation that is almost entirely gone. Teachers are laid off and schools begin to close, not enough students attending to warrant their need. Michelle has no problems enrolling Daisy into nursery that year, there is no waiting list. The toddler sits with five other children in the brightly decorated room, empty of its previous life. At home time, Michelle clutches Daisy tighter. She hurries past a young woman who stares mournfully at the gate with red rimmed eyes, waiting for someone who will never arrive. Not everyone had their child locked in the bathroom that day.
The next wave are those who died gradually. The people who lay comatose for weeks, the doctors wondering whether they'll recover from their brain injury or internal bleeding. Those only kept alive by ventilators and the wires sprouting from every part of their body, whilst the IV drips send chemicals and nutrients coursing through their bloodstream. Each doctor is desperate in their attempt to prevent another mark on the tally of the dead. Usually they fail.
The family members sit by their bedsides, wringing their hands in guilt, unable to look at the white bandages wrapping their heads like a shroud. If they look they'll remember the way their skull caved like an eggshell under the heavy metal baseball bat.
The NHS is pushed to the brink caring for the mass influx of patients, and long-term care wards are quickly over run. Extra beds are pushed over from the emptier wards, (there's not many left in geriatrics) until there's barely room to fit the equipment. Nurses step over wires and squeeze between beds, reaching over one patient to treat another. A fragile patient fatally trips over someone else's IV. They start sending people home.
Flocks of nurses flit through neighbourhoods, popping in and out of houses in record time. Their bags overflow with medication, needles and care packages, ready to be shoved into the hands of the patient's unwilling carer. They don't stay long at any property or connect with any patient, it simply isn't practical. There's so many (so many) to see. Their days are filled with an endless parade of filling out charts, washing atrophied bodies and blocking out the shame that smothers every household. They ignore the sorrow that laces a mother's words after they explain how to re-bandage her son's stomach wound. They're impartial to a young woman's tears when she's informed that her sister's condition won't improve. They stand rigid when a father collapses against them after the heart monitor stops beeping. They can't get involved, there's just too many. They offer empty condolences and step outside, fists clenched to stop their hands from shaking. They take a deep breath and head next door. Another heart monitor goes flat.
The final wave has no measured time frame. Some happen days after the event, some decades. This is the only wave where the victims decide. When the guilt builds up too much inside of them or the pain of their loss swallows their willpower. Each sits and wonders if it's worth it without that person, if they deserve to carry on after what they did. Some answer 'Yes'. Grit their teeth and bare it, keep their decision on loop in their head until the urge goes away. But it only goes away for so long, and one day the loop falters.
(A mother stares into her son's empty bedroom, dust dancing in the sunlight and gathering before her eyes. Her gaze freezes on a bloodstain in the carpet, faded over the years, but still visible. Her son's screams echo in her head and she scratches frantically at her palms, blood quickly oozing from the gouges she carves into her own skin. She heads to the bedroom and rips open a draw, a child's marbles rattling around at the bottom of it. The gun is heavy in her hand as she raises it to her head. She keeps it loaded now and easy to access, no tiny hands to stash it away from. She wishes him a happy birthday, his tenth. Five years since she last celebrated it with him. His pleas ring in her ears, clear as the day she ignored them. She pulls the trigger.)
For others the answer is an instant 'No'. Their minds already made up by the remorse clawing up their throats, apologies spewing from their mouth to fall on ears that can no longer hear. They raise the dripping knife to their own necks, already soaked in the blood of their little sister. They wash the brain matter from their hands and then reach into the bathroom cabinet for every bottle of pills they can find. They limp slowly to the roof of their school building, eyes swelling shut and uniform soaked in the blood of their classmates.
Those undecided fill the therapists waiting rooms, clinging to the hope that they'll be granted answers or relief from the endless niggling questions and doubts. They open up about the feel of snapping someone's leg bone, never noticing the trembling hands of the woman listening to them.
Eggsy is none of those people and doesn't fit into any of the stages. He feels relief at knowing the truth. That he's not left to wonder and panic, like the general public, about whether it could all happen again. He holds the envied knowledge that most of those he cares for are safe and the rare assurance that he protected them. He isn't woken up at night by memories of screams or flesh colliding violently, and he can safely say that he's never directly harmed anyone innocent. No, Eggsy doesn't know what the rest of the world is going through.
His guilt is of a different sort. It's the kind that leads him to attend all the funerals he can fit into his busy Kingsman schedule, whether he knew the deceased or not. It's the kind where he paces in front of Harry's gravestone, rambling endlessly about his day, his missions, his family, every sentence interspersed by an apology. It's the kind that keeps him up all night, replaying his confrontation with Valentine in his head and thinking of a million different ways that he could have prevented him from launching the signal at all. It's the kind that has his breath hitching as he cuddles Daisy to his chest, knowing that so many others can't do the same.
They all feel guilt, some reason to feel responsible for what happened. Most people beg forgiveness from their families or one of the cold graves that sprouted like weeds in every free plot of land. And though their guilt is intense, it limits itself to their own incident. Eggsy's is not limited. He grieves for everyone.
Sinking to his knees with shaky breaths and stinging eyes, Eggsy pleads forgiveness from the whole world.