Mom’s hands are shaking as she dials Dad’s number.
On receiving no reply, the phone slips from her hand and falls on the ground, a large crack slowly appearing on the screen.
I try to see through the window that she has been deliberately covering with her body, but she blocks my view again, whatever happening outside clearly not for my eyes. That doesn’t stop me from being curious though.
A loud boom shakes the floor, and I hold on to the wall as the quaking slowly subsides.
Maybe it is an earthquake. That would explain the panic.
The screams of the people outside only confirm that it is something much worse than a simple commonplace earthquake.
“Mom, what’s happening?” I ask, looking up at her.
Her eyes are fixed on something outside.
I don’t think she heard me.
I tug at her hand.
Her head jerks at me, almost as if she had forgotten that I was there.
Without answering my question, she picks up her cracked phone and starts dialling another number.
As she begins talking to my grandparents, her words are shaking and filled with relief at them having even answered her call. She keeps dialling, calling my aunts and uncles, even the ones she says bad things about behind their backs.
She moves away from the window for a moment, and I take the opportunity to look out.
What I see seems straight out a war film. It seems out of place in the bustling metropolitan city that is New York, almost unfathomable.
Smoke fills the entirety of my field of vision, the foggy air flowing through every corner and crevice it can find, slowly replacing the blue sky.
People run away from the destruction, some managing to overtake the running smoke, some others being overpowered by it, disappearing into the darkness forever.
Another loud boom shakes the floor again, and I cup my hands around my ears as the tower meets the ground, leaving nothing behind but rubble and cement.
The twin towers have collapsed.
Numbly, seeing everything and knowing nothing, I watch as the screams of the people grow louder, a cacophony of terror emanating from every part of my surroundings.
“No, no,” Mom whimpers.
I turn my head to look at her, and she stares at me in fear, having not realized that she wasn’t blocking my view of the real world anymore as she had hoped to do for as long as she could. I could see it all, and she wasn’t there to protect me from the emotional damage I would eventually bear for the rest of my life.
Still with that sorrowful expression on her face, she turns on the television, beckoning me over to sit next to her on the couch.
My eyes are still transfixed on the annihilation outside, every particle of dust mocking me at being another useless human protected by a thin layer of glass.
She walks over to me and leads me away from the window, her fingers digging into my shoulders in desperation.
I bury my head in her chest as she watches the news, the video of the towers collapsing being replayed again and again, almost as if they think that we might forget the exact sequence of events.
The reporters try to remain calm as they detail the deadliest terrorist attack in human history, but it is not difficult to hear the pain and grief in each of their voices, the fear and confusion, the uncertainty.
I wonder whether they are yearning to call up their loved ones just to hear their voices, whether they are reaching for their phones to check on the people that comprise their world while they report to the rest of the world.
I pray for those people and ignore the ache that starts to fill my chest and stomach when I think about Dad.
Dad works, worked, in the World Trade Centre building.
The television screen shows little figures jumping out of the building to save their lives, and I wonder whether one of those unrecognizable figures is Dad, his eyebrows scrunched up in fear and sweat and dust settling on his skin. I wonder whether he thought of us before he jumped. I wonder how his body will look, mangled and bloody, or just another unnamed casualty. I wonder if we’ll get to attend his funeral.
Mom dials Dad’s number again.
There is no answer.
The doorbell rings louder than it should, the sound filling our eyes ominously.
We look at each other in fear, the word ‘terrorists’ ringing in our heads.
Mom edges towards the door, slowly looking through the peephole.
The grin that breaks out on her face seems almost maniacal as she pulls the door open and practically jumps on the person standing on the other side, who hugs her tight, his hands holding her like she’s the most precious thing in the world.
Dad kisses her hard, and I look away, embarrassed at this public display of affection that seems too intimate for a ten-year-old to be watching. I feel almost guilty at having immediately started thinking about him being dead without even imagining the possibility that he had escaped.
As they loosen their hold on each other, I run over to Dad, and he hugs me too, placing a kiss on my hair, his body shivering.
We hold on to each other, afraid to let go.
“How?” Mom asks, not even having to finish, her eyes saying it all.
It is a good question.
We had seen the obliteration outside, the death and the dust.
His survival was nothing short of miraculous, a play of fate.
He breathlessly explained that he had threw up halfway through his ride to work and had decided to take a day off.
He had left behind the falling towers and had raced against death as he made his way back home.
We all sit on the couch, the television turned on only for the sake of some background noise, while all of us are lost in our own thoughts.
We are the lucky ones, the survivors.
I don’t know whether that is relieving or frightening.