A Falling Man, Part 2

Author: Mel Brownlee /

Robbie
8:28am.








What a shit day. What a well and truly shit day. It was already half eight and I had absolutely none of my own work done. All I had done for an hour and half was run around for other people trying to help them with their paper work. And I was pissed, oh boy was I pissed. By this rate I wouldn’t be leaving work early and having enough time to mentally and physically prepare myself for the night’s events…that still left me feeling a little queasy when I thought about them.

I finally had a chance to sit down at my desk and was close to going back to sleep. I sat there with my head in my hands, wondering how I was going to get everything done in time considering I still had a 10 o’clock meeting with my boss. Life would have been a lot easier if I didn’t have to attend that meeting, but I had to, it wasn’t compulsory, but I had to.

The minutes rolled by as I sat at my desk staring at a blank computer screen. I couldn’t even be motivated to turn it on.

God, when would it be home time? I was making it worse for myself by sitting around on my ass instead of actually getting some work done. All I wanted to do was get home and see Helen, take her to the park…

People all around me started to rise out of their seats, staring at something outside of the building. I looked at all of them, trying to figure out what was going on and then looked to the window. I etched closer to the window and squinted, finally seeing what everyone else was seeing.

“What is that?” One woman breathed, there was a hint of panic in her voice and it sparked a spread of worry throughout the office.

“It looks like a plane…” No, it’s Superman, I thought to myself and immediately wished I hadn’t.

Josh was next to me in an instant, “It is a plane.”

My heart skipped a beat as I, along with everyone else, realised how painfully close it was getting. It showed no sign of slowing down, stopping or turning, it just carried on cruising straight towards us. The entire room became full with terror and someone shouted, “It’s going to hit, it’s going to hit!”

I didn’t know who the hell had shouted that out, but I yelled back, “Shut up! Stop panicking, I’m sure it’s going to turn. I’m sure.”

But I wasn’t. I was scared and my stomach turned on itself.

The plane wasn’t going to turn and a minute after I had first noticed it floating in the skies ahead, it hit.




8:46am




It hit directly below us and the entire building shuddered under the impact. It took everyone in the office a couple of seconds to realise what was happening and to start running. They ran in all directions, but the explosion underneath us was like an earthquake. Not one person managed to hold their ground and the next thing I knew I was on the floor.

Almost immediately smoke started to fill up the room and it was near enough impossible to see what was happening. That’s when the screams started. Screams so high pitched and frightening it made my blood curdle.

Screams, screams, screams. It was all I could hear and I so desperately didn’t want to hear them. I clamped my hands over my ears and squeezed my eyes shut, trying to think about Helen and home and the future. I needed to stay calm. I needed to do something to get us all out of the building. Then I thought about what a long way down it was and if we even had time to get out.

The room was shaking and I could hardly see a thing. I couldn’t see people, but I could hear them screaming, shouting out for help.

“We need – “ With all the smoke, it was hard to talk. I coughed and spluttered until my throat cleared. “We need to make our way to the elevators, everyone needs to get up and head to the elevators.”

The only responses I got were groans.

“Come on, the sooner we get in a lift the quicker we will be out of here.”

I could see people moving towards me, all of them trying to pull themselves together.

“Okay,” I said gingerly, I didn’t expect to play the leader in all of this, “just follow me and stick together. Hold your ground.”

Trying to work my way through the smoke, I really wished I hadn’t opted to lead all these people to the lifts, I would rather just follow the leader. I couldn’t see for shit. And the worse bit about this was that I knew time was of the essence. I didn’t know how much time we had to get out but I knew the building was going to go down. A plane had just flown into it – there was no way in hell it was going to stay up. And for those people on the floors above the impact zone, there was only so much time.

I had no idea where I was going, the smoke was too thick so I went on basic instinct. I had been up to that office every day for 2 years so by now I surely could have made my way around with my eyes closed. So that’s what I did. I closed my eyes and tried to visualise where I was going. I was in the front offices, so I was close. To my left was the boardrooms where my 10 o’clock meeting with Russell was now definitely not taking place. Straight ahead was the staff kitchen, which led to a set of stairs that the fitness enthusiasts used instead of the lifts – although I did not know anyone who was neither mad nor fit enough to take those stairs.

To my right there were more offices, I bumped into cubicles, fallen bins, tipped over desks on my way to the lifts. I reached out and found the lifts. I hit the down button over and over again. Nothing. I hit it again and waited. More nothing. No sound of the lift making its way up to us, no ding to alert us that it had arrived, no sign of the doors opening – I would know because I thought I had heard it arrive and tried to get in, only to find myself walking into the closed doors.

I panicked, and everyone started to sense my panic.

“What’s happening, Rob?” Someone asked.

I kept pressing the up button, it had to work, it just had to.

“It’s not working is it?” Someone else yelled out.

“Oh my god we are stuck here!” For Christ sake, people really did not know how to calm down the situation.

“Everyone just settle.” I shouted out. “If the lifts aren’t working, we have to take the stairs.” People started mumbling, talking under their breaths. No one wanted to traipse all the way down those stairs and I certainly did not want to. “If that is the case, we need to go now as it will take a lot more time.”

The worry spread like the fires below us. I could see people shooting off in all directions.

“We all need to stick together.” I repeated. “If we don’t…”

“What?” This person sounded very frightened and all I wanted to do was tell her it was all going to be okay and that soon she was going to be safe at home with her husband and kids. I wanted to tell myself that, but I couldn’t. I had never been one to lie to myself or to lie to others, not even to pacify them. I wasn’t about to kid anyone or give anybody false hope.

“What?” The woman asked again. It was Anna Conroy. I had dined with Anna and her husband, Antonio, once and both Helen and I could not believe how lovely they were. They were considerably older than us, with three children, and all the love in the world. They had plans, so many plans. Plans to go here and there, to see this and that, and they were going to do it all, together as a family.

I didn’t believe in god, but at that moment, thinking about Anna Conroy and her family and her plans, I prayed that she would be able to do everything she had hoped to do in her life. I prayed that her last adventure in life wouldn’t be coming into work on a Tuesday morning and never leaving.

“The stairs.” I finally said – fear was starting to mess with my mind. “It’s the only way down.”




Helen.
9:00am.





It was a beautiful day, the perfect day for a jog. The sun was out – I was praying for a bit of a tan – it was warm, but not warm enough to have me sweating buckets. I was surprised with myself, actually. One, that I had even managed to get myself out of bed and two, that I had thought a quick run to the park would be a good idea. It had never occurred to me before to go for a run, but I loved it and I made a mental promise to myself that I would do this every day, even if I was sick, even if I was hung over. Although I suspected my little self-made pact would last no more than a week, two if I was really dedicated. Three if I wanted to kid myself.

The weather had me in such a good mood that I even contemplated phoning up my father, just to see how he was. Doing that though would probably dampen my day. On days like this, when everything seemed right with the world and all was peaceful, I couldn’t help but think of him – a bitter, old man who could dish it out but never take it. I hadn’t talked to him in a year, which may not seem that long but after living with him and only him for 20 years of my life, it was like a decade.

I used to idolise my father, he was, of course, my hero. Every girl’s hero is their father and it was no different with me. My whole life revolved around trying to make him proud of me, which left me in constant fear of disappointing him. Whenever I would come home from school with anything less than an A, I would be petrified. He would never lose it with me or saying anything harsh, it was just the look on his face, the high hopes he had were shattered and I could see it in his eyes. It devastated me every time and pushed me to work harder, which meant I had few friends and no time for boyfriends. It benefited me though, in the end, all that hard work. Even in college, dad’s subtle ways pushed me to pass with flying colours – at the expense of my social life – and I graduated first in my class. A psychologist. That was dads dream for me, and it became my own dream as well. People had always fascinated me, I always observed them, studied them and scrutinised them, which – along with my reclusive nature– was probably why I never had a lot of friends, why people used to get scared of me or fed up with me. Hell, I would have been fed up with me too. There was nothing I hated more than being scrutinised. Having someone give me reasons as to why I acted in a certain way or did certain things made my blood boil. And yet, I just loved to do it to others.

So, you could say I was very similar to my father. I could sure as hell dish it out, but I couldn’t take anything back.

Maybe that is why we clashed so bad, because we were so alike. We used to argue almost every week. Not about silly little things like cleaning my bedroom or doing the dishes or taking the dog out for a walk, but big things. The hot topic was my mother. Where she had gone, why she had left, what she was like. And somehow he would always manage to work his way around such questions and in the end I never really got a straight answer.

It all came to a head when I met Robbie Johanssen. Dad did not like him and Rob did not like dad. Rob worked in claims, insurance – in Dad’s world that meant Rob was all about the money. Money, money, money, he used to say, superficial and shallow. To dad, Robbie was a material guy and it would get him nowhere. In reality, Rob didn’t care about money, it was just his job, and he landed in his job fresh from high school so he stuck to it until something better came along. He didn’t care what, as long as it happened.

Robbie was never a quiet guy. He was opinionated, sarcastic and my father could not stand it. So you could be sure that whenever my father would make a quick, sharp remark about Rob, there was going to be an argument. Rob didn’t take any shit, he didn’t care if it was my father, he wasn’t going to be treated like that and eventually there had been one fight too many. Now, my father, always the diplomat, handed me an ultimatum. Him or Rob. Well, from where I was sitting Rob had never set a foot wrong and my father’s only problem with him was his job and the fact that he stood up for himself, so I wasn’t about to give up the man I had fallen in love with. I told my father what I thought of him and then I told him where he could stick his ultimatum. I refused to talk to him until he apologised, until he was groveling at my feet for forgiveness. He never did. Which was no surprise, but it was a surprise he chose not to fight for his daughter and to me that meant he didn’t care enough. And that was the end of it, a year on and still no word from him and I wasn’t about to make the first move. My whole life I had always been the one to swallow my pride and say sorry, even when I was convinced I had done no wrong and was completely in the right. I apologised because he was my father and I loved him, I didn’t want to be at war with him, but clearly he had no qualms about being at war with me. So he could lie in the lonely bed he had made for himself.

I thought about the day at hand, the sun warming my back as I lay on my front in the park, the sound of kids laughing, leaves being gently tickled by the wind as it brushed through the trees, the dogs running after their toys, barking at their owners as if they were telling them to hurry up and throw the damn ball. And all of this made me sentimental, and when I got sentimental I wanted to contact my dad. On the odd occasion I had dialled his number but hung up at the second ring, or driven past his house and almost let myself knock on the door. If I am going to be honest, I had knocked on his door once – I missed him, I missed the house, I missed my dog – but he wasn’t home and I saw it as a blessing in disguise. I stared at my phone, should I, shouldn’t I? I didn’t.

Instead, my attention turned to what was going on in the distance. From the park, I could see World Trade Centre. Robbie worked in the north tower and sometimes I would call him from the park, me looking at him, him looking at me. But now people were gathering around and gasping. I stood up and took off my sunglasses. I saw it in that moment, the tower, it was on fire. It was Rob’s tower, and it was on fire.

I turned to the nearest person, “What’s happened?”

“Didn’t you see it?” The man looked puzzled, “A plane, it went straight into one of the twin towers. It flew straight into it.”

My stomach dropped. My heart felt like it had crawled up into my throat and I was about to choke on it.

Hundreds of people had gathered around now and we all stared at the burning building in the distance, which meant we were all watching as a second plane flew into the south tower.




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