NEW YORK: THE SORROW AND SEPTEMBER SWING - Part 2, by Yemi Ogunshola
The Day America Froze
On Thursday, 14th August my trip for 2003 was over and it was time to leave. I had to catch a flight from JFK for Heathrow that day. Then pandemonium! Suddenly the phones wouldn’t work. Neither would elevators, electrical gadgets, or pre-booked cabs. An eerie silence descended upon New York City. It was, the word came though, a power outage. Not for several years had that happened. Somehow I got a cab driver crazy enough to brave the dead traffic lights; but not before he’d charged me triple the normal fare, of course.
Without lights, a city becomes like a blind and helpless invalid. The drive to JFK resembled an action movie as vehicles struggled to avoid collision. At the airport, no planes could fly. In other parts of the city millions of people were trapped in trains, subway coaches, buildings and on the streets. Unlike the outage incidents of the past, however, looting, mugging and attacks were almost non-existent. Emergency services took control.
At JFK the rumours did the rounds. “It was Al Queda, surely…?” “It was another attack on New York…”
The Airport Authority’s attempt in the confusion to evacuate the airport only resulted in resistance and near-riot by the passengers. In the end the authorities gave up. One after the other, the staff disappeared.
The poor spirit at the departure hall soon picked up, however. The meager foods for sale were consumed. At midnight, a touring European youth ensemble played music as people clapped in the dark to the flutes and other wind instruments. People made new friends, an exchange of international friendships. But soon events took their toll. Exhausted, people lay down to sleep on the bare floor.
It wasn’t until late afternoon on the following day that our plane finally left New York, after several extra checks. Up there in the skies, the enigma of New York slowly evaporated. As the plane touched down at London Heathrow early on Saturday morning, a loud cheer erupted from the visibly traumatized passengers.
Now, another 11th day has come again in September. In 2004, various solemn activities took place to coincide with that morning, three years ago at 08.46 hours, when the first plane struck the twin towers. On the Sunday, memorial services were widely held, even as US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld addressed the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
In New York City, life moves on. The days roll by and the people of the world swarm like pilgrims there each day in homage. They particularly swarm to Lady Liberty, irresistibly drawn by her ageless grace.
In 2004, as the war rages on in Iraq and while the world struggles each day with terror’s Pandora’s box, Lady Liberty stands as an unchanging symbol of continuity. She stands as if on guard each day. And at dusk or nightfall, she stands like a lone mother who seeks to protect her vulnerable children until morning.
(Yemi Ogunshola is a London-based writer/editor and critically acclaimed author)