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Bon Journal

Black Tuesday

The day began like any other. But for the sun-starved Londoner, it was exceptionally beautiful, cloudless and warm. The sky was as blue as ever. It was not a day to be spent indoors at an all day staff meeting.

After breakfast, I walked briskly, across 32nd street to my office building. By 8:30 am I had settled at my colleague's desk.

After checking my e-mail, I walked to the kitchen to get a cup of hot water. It was almost time for our meeting.

Others were already gathered around the mute TV in the kitchen. Was it a science fiction or a horror film? Someone suggested that we go to the main reception to watch the TV with sound.

In the reception area, a larger crowd gathered around the larger television set. I asked the receptionist to crank up the sound after we all stood in silence trying to figure out what was going on. A jet had hit the first tower. That alone would have been concluded as an accident. But the second jet, crashing into the South Tower, raised the possibility that it was deliberate. When we heard about the Pentagon being hit, we knew something was terribly wrong. Whatever we all thought, I don't think we realised then that this was happening LIVE. Then someone mentioned that we could go to the 12th floor and see the buildings.

By the time I got to the 12th floor, only one of the two twin towers of the World Trade Center was visible. It was hard to believe this was real.

My first thought was to let my family know that I was safe. I was particularly concerned that my father would worry about me. It was too early to wake up my sister. My brother was probably not too bothered. And my mother? she wasn't around when I called. My next thought was that of evacuation. Surely, we should leave this building which sits on top of one of the busiest train and subway stations in Manhattan. But the intercom came on just at that moment of indecision. It reassured us that the safest thing to do was to stay put. And like an obedient child following the herd mentality, I remained in the building.

In front of the TV, we watched shocked and paralysed in silence. And like zombies, some of us walked back to the meeting room. I found it very difficult to concentrate, but I didn't want to be a sissy. So I pretended I was tuned in even though I could not contribute a single good idea.

We were far from the maddening crowd, yet not far enough to be ambivalent. All we had to do was go to the 12th floor to validate what was being broadcasted on TV and radio. The twin towers had disappeared like a cloud of smoke. Yes, all that was left - was white and grey smoke.

This smoke lingered for several days. That evening I walked the empty streets of Manhattan towards downtown. I didn't want to be alone in this city. My radio walkman accompanied me as far as Washington Square. Then I realised that I could not get close enough to the scene of disaster. I was a useless foreigner in a strange city that did not want my blood or my naivety. So I turned back towards my hotel in midtown Manhattan. It was, for me, the end of the age of innocence. The last of the summer sun.

11 September 2001

I am writing this on 22 September Saturday, in the comfort of my home in London. No longer bombarded by real-time, live coverage on TV, I am remembering Black Tuesday - a day I shall never forget. A day when I felt helpless and totally alone.
Only a year ago, I dined on top of the world, at Windows of the World which is now completely gone.