The next day, after having stayed up until 4.00 am listening to news reports on the BBC’s web site, and switching between regularly updated news sites, I took a bunch of laundry down to the local laundromat to be cleaned.
While I was waiting for my clothes to be washed, I went for a walk around the local shops. Everyone looked glum. I walked past people sitting at tables outside cafes and could hear them talking about it.
I went into the newsagents and for the first time in months I bought a newspaper – two, in fact. Both front pages featured huge photos of the flaming, smoking towers. “War on America”, “WAR OF TERROR”, special editions and red ink. Maybe seeing it unfold on my computer monitor didn’t make it seem real, but holding that pile of newsprint in my hands, touching the photo of the fireball seemed to confirm what was true.
I stopped off at a cafe. There was a radio playing and a pre-recorded piece came on where they played a selection of calls received from the public earlier that morning. An upset-sounding woman spoke of how she woke up her daughters in the middle of the night to tell them what had happened. I was thinking, why didn’t she just wait until the morning and let them get a good night’s sleep? But then I realised that she had needed to talk to someone.
Back at the laundromat, I watched the TV. It’s normally on a music video channel, but that day it had been switched to channel Nine, which was showing ABC coverage from America as well as local commentary.
Behind me, a drunk guy who had seen the TV from the street stumbled in.
“Are they still bombing America,” he slurred. No one looked at him or answered his question, all eyes still on the TV. He asked the same question again so I curtly replied, “there are no bombs involved.” “Well the bloody aeroplanes then. I suppose that’s what you do if you haven’t got any money, eh?” Sick of him, I ignored him. He turned and left, quietly saying, “good on them.”
I continued to watch the TV. Endless replay of plane two, the collapses, the Pentagon. An old lady sitting down from me asked, “what do you think about that?” “It’s shocking,” I replied, realising that this was the first time I’d be genuinely shocked about something in years. “Have you been to America,” she asked. It was hard to carry on a conversation over the noise of the TV and the laundry machines, but I replied, “Yes, I went to Los Angeles.” “Eh?” I moved closer and repeated, “I’ve been to Los Angeles.”
“Ah, when was that?”
“Have you been to New York.”
“No, but I’ve always wanted to. I’d always wanted to go up the World Trade Center.”
“I’d always wanted to visit the World Trade Center.”
“Where’s that then?”
“It’s in New York. It’s the building that was hit by the aeroplanes and collapsed.”
“Where you there when that happened?”
“No. I wasn’t.”
I couldn’t stand being a participant in this painful conversation for much longer. I excused myself to get my clothes from the drier, then left.
I got back, turned on my computer, and the World Trade Center was still a pile of rubble.