The days immediately after I feel numb. Today, I woke up before dawn and immediately burst into tears at the thought of three hundred firefighters who died in the inferno that is now Towers I and 2 of the World Trade Center. I must have been thinking about them while I slept. New Yorkers like myself walk past each
other without speaking.
There is nothing left to say. An unspeakable crime has been committed against our beloved, fearsome, creative, powerful, ambitious, original, city. I am Malayali, Indian, South Asian
and a New Yorker, and not always in that order. Today I am a New Yorker and feel New York is part of my soul. This tragedy has made me a New Yorker in a way I never thought possible. Such is the unfolding, sometimes unraveling complexity of the postcolonial diasporic experience.
Some weeks ago, I was eating at one of my favorite Bangladeshi eating places “Taste of Tandoor on Church Street within view of my college and the Twin Towers. A man introduced himself as the Chief of Security. We shared a meal together. I was awed by his appetite! He ate a whole Tandoori fish. He stated that he had been a champion wrestler in Egypt where he was born. He was an enormously strong looking man with a shining bald head, smiling pale brown eyes, creamy skin and an open manner.
I could see we were about the same age, sharing the same historic experiences of an earlier more optimistic time in the years after India’s and Egypt’s independence from colnial rule. We exchanged stories about Nasser and Nehru. He said “I loved them. They were brothers.”
He was concerned about his college age son who was partying instead of studying. He was pleased that the young man was beginning to understand that he must apply himself to his studies. A devoted father having lunch and talking about his family both in Egypt and in the US.
He also said “After the ‘problem’ (the bombing) in 1993, they (the FBI) investigated me. But they could find nothing. And then they made me Chief of Security.”
“Do you know why?” he asked.
I let him answer his own question.
“First because I am Muslim. Second, because I am Egyptian.”
I declined his business card. Also his offer to show me the top of the Twin Towers “free”!. I have been there several times with visiting family and friends. It is, was, an astounding place. New York wouldn’t be New York without the Twin Towers. There is a smoky wound in the sky where they used to be. Our eyes still look for them. We gave directions to friends amnd strangers, using the Towers as a guide. “When you are walking downtown make sure the Towers are facing you. Then make a right on Church and keep going towards the river, so that the Towers are on your left” etc. etc. ” I guess they just became a part of us, part of our bodies, part of our dreams and fears.
He was very proud of his job. I admire anyone for holding such a job.
I don’t know his name. I wonder if he is alive today. After this is over, if it ever is, I will inquire about him.