Do we really know how many people died on September 11, 2001?
Terrence felt the sidewalk tipping under his feet as his lunging uncontrolled gait slammed him into the brick wall. His head hit the concrete, his ear folding over and lacerating on the rough stony surface. A little piece of green glass looking like a crystal tear imbedded into his left cheek. He tried to stand up, but he was too drunk again. He moaned a bit and drew his knees up to his bare chest. He was always inebriated; it was his normal.
The chill made him wonder where he left his shirt. The last place he was fully dressed was by his shopping cart, the one he pushed around looking for soda bottles to cash in, the container for all his possessions, his home. He stayed in front of a shop for rent because it looked like it was going to be a while before the store got leased. His soaked brain couldn’t remember a better place. He felt lucky to sleep under an old awning, have a subway grate for warmth in the colder weather, and that the diner around the corner had excellent garbage and an outdoor “private” spigot. Jaime, his drinking buddy, came by his awning earlier with a whole bottle of scotch he lifted out of a delivery man’s bicycle basket. They drank it all. Terrence took off his shirt as he got hotter and drunker, hanging it up on the handle of his cart.
His memory was fuzzy. That’s where his shirt was, but he couldn’t remember where he left the cart. Terrence closed his eyes and let the coolness and pungent smell from the sidewalk fill his nose. When he opened again them, the light was brighter. He had passed out for several hours, and he was colder than ever. He wished he had his shirt, and maybe the old jacket he found in the cans by the playgrounds. A couple of blinks later, he raised his head and squinted, looking for a landmark. He guessed he had blacked out and went roaming outside his neighborhood. Beyond guessing, he had no clue how he got to the plaza, away from his familiar territory.
He saw nothing he knew. Tall buildings looked almost same to his alcohol-fueled mind, so he usually stayed within a few blocks of his storefront. This new place was different, the wide plaza, long granite benches, and super-sized buildings. No storefront, no awning, just open space. Terrence sat up and wrapped his arms tightly around himself. The window on the building in front of him reflected his red-rimmed eyes and wild hair; his jeans looked like they had been waxed and coated with filth. His ear throbbed, caked with blood and sidewalk litter.
A man in a business suit walked slowly past. He stopped, reached in his pocket placed a couple of bills at Terrence’s feet. One began to blow away so the businessman grabbed it and put it in the shirtless man’s hand. “Hang onto it, buddy. Spend it on food, not booze.”
“Bless you mister.” He rolled over onto his back and looked at the bill in his hand. It was a twenty, and there was a five near his left foot. The businessman had been a Samaritan. He could get himself together. A tee shirt on the clearance rack at a tourist kiosk cost him $7. It was a boy’s size with superhero graphics and fit him snugly. The plaza was filling with people, and he was relieved to have on a shirt. He rummaged through trash cans until he found some napkins. He wet them at a water fountain near the granite benches and cleaned his face and ear. He sat on the ground and held out an empty coffee cup, also from the trash. Many people walked past him and he soon had $13 more, giving him $31 in total for the morning, not counting the shirt.
The sky tall buildings all around him had large, warm grates outside, and Terrence saw a few of them occupied by people like himself. So much room, such big buildings, so many people. Even with the begging competition he had made enough money to get a doughnut and coffee with enough left over for a bottle of cheap whisky to go in the coffee. He couldn’t remember having it better, not for a long time. His awning wasn’t as good as this place. There was enough around- shelter, food, generous people, even a water source. Near some construction, he found a secluded and unlocked port-o-potty, a luxury his storefront didn’t have.
This place had it all; his decision was easy. He wouldn’t go looking for his shopping cart. He would stay here and make his home base. Compared to wherever he was before, this place was paradise. He sat on a bench, stretching his legs and holding his second cup of warm, whisky-spiked coffee, all he needed for good morning. His luck was improving on this beautiful late summer morning.
The first explosion surprised him. He didn’t know where it was coming from. People were running everywhere, fire raining down from above. He ran with the crowd but didn’t get very far before he fell, smoke, oil, and fire overcoming him. He wished for his awning, the warm grate, safety from this place which had turned from soaring heaven to falling hell.