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That day

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September 11, 2011 by Dan

A blurb from something I’m working on (very rough draft here)

We ended up in an archetypical Budapest coffeehouse; a line of tables sat next to the wall of windows facing the street. Behind the bar were several beer taps, dozens of bottles of wine, and a giant brass-colored espresso maker. The workers were young and skinny. I ordered a cappuccino and a pastry; Mark had a Coke. We sat at our table and made conversation in the usual backpacker way. Where you’re going, where I’ve been, what’s great about here, what sucks about there.

While we talked, people kept walking over to the line of five computers on the windowless far wall. After ten minutes, half the café was gathered there.

“Maybe it’s something to do with that plane?” said Mark. “You should go check it out.”

I walked to the computer bank and peered over the shoulder of a young man who was staring at the screen of CNN.com. All of the headlines were in English.

World Trade Center, Pentagon attacked.
Planes used as bombs.
Car bomb at State Department.

The young man looked up when I put my hand on his shoulder; I didn’t want his attention, I wanted to lean on somebody.

“My God,” I said.

“American?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“You must go find a television,” he said. “Things are very bad.”

I moved as fast as I could.

“Mark,” I said. “It’s fucking fucked up…I gotta get back to the hostel.”

“What happened?” he asked.

“Attacks,” I said. ‘War, maybe.”

Out in the street, the sidewalks were nearly deserted; every café or restaurant with a television had a crowd inside, all playing the same image – the two towers with smoking, flaming holes. Commentary in Magyar. I stopped a couple of times to watch, then hustled back.

How did I get back? I suppose that I took a bus; there were no taxis to be seen, and running would have been two miles, and I would surely remember running that far.

When I got there, the TV room was half-full of people. I sat down in the middle of the floor, right in front of someone, blocking his view.

“I’m American,” I said.

“Hey, me too,” said another voice. It was a small, dark-haired boy. Definitely a boy – he had a young face and weighed no more than 120 pounds. A college kid, on semester abroad, maybe.
“Any others?” I asked.

Nobody answered. It was about then that the first pictures of people jumping off of the buildings came on, images so bleak that they stunned the English announcers into silence. The other boy and I started to cry.
I stayed in that room until three in the morning, watching television. Another backpacker came in sometime during the night and suggested that we change the channel.

“Hell no!” yelled the American. “Do you see what’s going on? Don’t you get it? Everything’s fucked!” He sounded panicked and scared.

I left every now and then to go outside and breathe. I went to the one computer in the place and checked my email – my brother had written to me, and a college friend of mine was serving as a clearinghouse of information. Not on the attacks, but on New Yorkers who we knew, if they were ok, or if people had not been heard from. I was worried about my old roommate, who had been working at the Pentagon.


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