This is a letter to you, the man at Journal Square Path station in Jersey City seen at around eleven on the morning of the 22nd
of August. Friday. It’s always eleven isn’t it? I mean the serious, momentous things to happen. Bad things, good things. 9/11, 11:11 the digital wake-up code, the eleventh hour. It’s a double digit, a power number. Eleven also represents the twin strands of DNA, spiralling upwards, moving into a higher frequency of consciousness. I don’t necessarily buy that but it was around 11am, maybe a little after, and the two of us, Alice and I, were sitting there on the 33rd
Street train waiting to go into Manhattan. Our first priority was breakfast. To find somewhere nice to have some. We opted to take the train on Track 2 bound for 33rd
though we might just as easily have gone for the train on Track 1 which would have taken us to the World Trade Centre which, let’s face it, even with the Twin Towers gone, makes most of us think of the number eleven. Had we opted for that one we might have had a better view of what happened to you, before it actually did. We might have seen rather than just heard the raised voices, the ‘Oh my God’ and the sharp crack of something too hard hitting the pavement. It was
too hard and too soft all at the same time and never meant to make the sound that it did. So as it was we heard the voices and the commotion and we heard the clattering, which might have been your keys, or your shoes, and finally we heard the crack. All I could see at first was the face of the woman. You won’t have known she was there, but she was, looking down at you with such shock in her eyes, such genuine concern and she was holding the sides of her face and saying ‘Oh my God’ and then putting her hands out to no one in particular and then up in the air the way people do when they’re not sure what they’re supposed to do. When they feel helpless. It was a helpless gesture. ‘Shall I call 911?’ she asked, not really asking the question to get an answer so much as seeing whether her voice still worked the way it used to, whether ordinary communication was still possible after such a thing had happened. And then I think she did call 911, or someone did, surely. And I can see now that my thinking this is just the same as her asking. Hoping that the ordinary lines still work. That ordinary things are still possible. And then we saw another man, a guy coming down the stairs, or maybe he was already down but he would have been behind you from the way he was coming. That is if it’s possible to really tell the order of things once they have already happened. After the event it is never fact, it can only ever be conjecture. He was an official looking guy, someone with a station uniform. Not really anyone who could do anything about what had happened or to even begin to find a way of making it better, but he was reaching out and touching the woman, looking at her and saying ‘It’s all right, I got it.’ Like it was something he could
do something about. ‘I got it,’ he said. Got what? And then when I looked again there was another man. He was different. Not like the lady or the station man and not like you. It’s not that it was that unusual, seeing a white man in Jersey City. There are plenty of them about but this man was whiter than that. Deathly white. All the colour gone from his cheeks. Like it was him who’d had the fall, who’d come clattering down the stairs. Like it was him who was dying or already dead, not you. And all the same, even though it was you in trouble and not him, you just lay there quietly, calm as anything. I know that even though we were sitting there on the train at Track 2 waiting for it to leave, waiting for it to take us somewhere we could go to find something good to get for breakfast, somewhere between Journal Square and 33rd
Street, which we didn’t quite know yet. We had both been so hungry after all we’d done that morning. Looking for cups and plates in the Goodwill Store for Alice’s apartment, buying earphones from the Indian man at, what was it called, Sound Solutions? Checking our emails at that internet place where they had the TV permanently tuned to Al Jazeera and an almost continuous call to prayer. What would it have been when we were in there, ten o’clock New York time: 5pm in Baghdad? That would be about right. Only one hour before eleven. The eleventh hour. Even though we were sitting there and we had already decided which train to get on and the air conditioning was working fine this time, so it was nice and cool and we both had a seat to sit down on. Even so, I knew there was something though I still hadn’t seen you, I still didn’t really know you were there but I’d heard the clattering and I’d seen the woman saying ‘Oh my God’ and all the helpless gestures she was making and the man who had actually gone more pale than white. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale.’ I get it now. And that man, he was saying ‘Oh Jesus, I feel so bad…I didn’t want him to…I didn’t think…’ Things like that. Just starting sentences and not finishing them. Not really saying anything at all. I was watching this, I think we both were, the station man coming down the stairs saying ‘I got it’ to the woman holding her face and the man who’d lost all the colour in his and so I said to Alice, ‘Something’s happened. I think someone might have collapsed.’ And of course that someone was you only it wasn’t so much of a collapse as a tumble. I got off the train without even looking to see if Alice was getting off with me (but she had). I got off even though I knew the doors might close and the train might head off and whatever happened our seats would not be there when we got back and we’d have to wait even longer for our breakfast. So we got off the train and onto the station platform and walked around to the bottom of the stairs or at least far enough so that we could see what it was that had made the woman call for God and look so helpless and the man beside her turn into something like a ghost and the station man, the one in uniform, use words that sounded helpful and strong like ‘I’ve got it’ when there really wasn’t anything that could be got.