Rosie And I – Part 1
‘What a fantastic view of New York it is from here! It’s quite exciting isn’t it?’ Then quickly—‘Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t notice your guide dog. What’s his name?’
‘Her name is Rosie.’
‘Oh, apologies Rosie.’
‘It’s okay; Rosie’s a forgiving dog,’ I laughed. ‘I’d like to see the view too, but we came up in one of the express elevators from the ground floor to here and that was exciting enough for me. I hope my insides go back into place okay.’
We both chuckled. ‘Yes, it’s pretty quick isn’t it?’
‘I couldn’t see the floor numbers whizzing by, but it doesn’t take a skilled mathematician to know you are flying when you leave the lobby and arrive at the seventy-eighth floor in a matter of seconds!’ We both chuckled again.
‘Are you working in New York? You’re not American are you?’
‘No, I’m from Australia. I’m doing a PhD. on some aspects of the American Civil War. I’ve done most of it now, so I’ll be going home soon, but New York has the best histories in the world of the Civil War produced in braille, so that’s why I’m here.’
‘That’s great. Good luck then, man, and all the best to you both.’
The elevator arrived again, and this time it was good news for me. I heard, ‘Good morning Mr Forrester, you’re early as usual. Come in. Hello Rosie,’ and although he knew he shouldn’t scratch behind Rosie’s ears while she was on duty, I could tell he had because she’d wagged her tail. I didn’t blame him because I knew Rosie was a beautiful golden Labrador.
Mr. O’Connor was in the middle of telling me what my scholarship money was doing, and was helping me to sign some papers, when he stopped for a second or two and, as though talking to himself said, ‘A plane’s flying very low out there. It’s coming from the left side of the Empire State Building. If it doesn’t stop it’ll hit something. What’s it doing flying as low as that over the CBD?’
I asked, ‘Did you say a plane?’
‘And it’s not stopping. It’s a big passenger jet aircraft. It’s coming straight at us. No he’s lifted the nose and dropped a wing.’ Then more quickly, ‘here it comes … it’s going to hit us, just above here!’
After a moment’s silence there was a huge noise like thunder, the building swayed, the crashing noise continued and I felt several long trembles up and down the whole building, like an earthquake. I shot to my feet, and bent over to protect my dog from the bits of tiles raining down from the ceiling. We were coughing, so I supposed the walls could be crumbling. Rosie was shaking and so was I.
This was the worst scare I’d ever had in my twenty-eight years of existence. It was 8.46am on Tuesday, eleventh of September 2001 and we were in the North Tower of the World Trade Centre.
‘Mr Forrester, get out of the building straight away,’ Mr. O’Connor shouted through the din. He grabbed my arm, hurried me to the front door and as he opened it he said ‘Good luck; I must help our staff,’ and was gone.
Rosie took over and went straight across to the brace of elevators where we’d come up, but didn’t stop. Instead she pulled me past all of them and we rounded the corner to a stairwell in the corner of the lobby. With her wonderful hearing, Rosie must have heard the crashing of metal and rubbish falling down the elevator shafts and sensed burning material falling as well. I could feel the heat coming from the doors as we rushed past.
What I didn’t know, but Rosie did, was that the other two stairways were blocked with crashed material from above. This was the only stairway that serviced the seventy-eighth floor down to the lobby exclusively, thus free from the mess above us.
We heard voices coming from a trickle of people apparently from the remains of another stairwell that finished at our floor. I could hear them, arriving breathlessly after running across the lobby to join us. Noise, rubble, heat and now thick smoke seemed to arrive with them as we all started walking down the narrow stairs together. Rosie, as usual, pushed people aside to let me in. We’d only managed to descend two flights of stairs when several called out that the lights had gone out.
‘Does anyone know what caused the explosion?’ someone behind me asked.
I said, ‘Yes, it was a plane hitting the building flat out. It was a commercial plane, probably full of passengers and fuel,’ I recited, ‘and hit somewhere above the seventy-eighth floor.’
‘How do you know all this,’ someone asked sceptically. ‘Forgive me, but you are blind, dependent on a dog.’
‘Someone gave me a second-by-second description as it was happening, and it didn’t make sense until the explosion.’
A shaky voice said, ‘I saw it too; it set the building on fire and that’s why it’s so dreadfully hot in here. I was looking right into the cockpit and it looked deliberate to me.’
We all started talking at once, but he went on. ‘Remember in nineteen-something-or-other, terrorists exploded a bomb in the car park underneath here hoping to bring the building down? I reckon they’re trying to bring it down again.’
‘You could be right. But then it could also be a pilot in trouble from Kennedy Airport with a whole lot of poor sods on board,’ somebody added.
At that moment there was another din like thunder and we all stopped. The person behind slipped and fell on me. I had a firm grip on the banister or I would have slipped over too. Was the building falling in on us? I couldn’t tell. We heard a voice shout up to us, ‘Another plane has hit the South Tower, and their building’s on fire, just like ours.’
‘That proves it was all planned,’ someone commented, followed by a string of swear words describing the authors of these travesties. He said it for all for us.
‘What’s the time—can anyone tell me?’ I felt on my wristwatch and told him it was 9.03am.
Further news came back up to us that many had vacated the South Tower when our tower was hit. They were able to use all the lifts and stairwells, so their building was much emptier than ours when attacked. It was the only good news we’d had so far this morning.
For a while we moved at a steady pace until about five flights further down we began to slow up and then stop, the intervals becoming longer and longer until we were waiting five minutes between stops and starts. It was incredibly hot, and I could hear Rosie panting badly trying to cool down in the heat—a fresh worry.
I wondered if everyone else was as toey as I was when someone from behind me yelled, ‘Someone is holding us up. Get a move on you lot in front.’ I knew how he felt.
‘People are pushing in on every floor—it’s only going to get worse,’ they called back up to us. Of course they were, and there wasn’t a thing we could do about that, although at each floor Rosie tried to skip me past people, and sometimes we were successful.
Climbing down seventy-eight floors was going to take long enough, but with this stop-start pattern we could be here for hours. I kept thinking about the building’s ability to stand the plane’s weight plus the petrol together with a raging fire and wondered how much more it could take?
The man next to me said he’d seen petrol streaming down the side of the building. What if that catches fire? I wondered to myself and shuddered.
We plodded on in a sort of ‘terror stupor’ with no answers to my theories.
At the next lobby, Rosie rushed me round some slow climbers, so I lost my friends from the stairs. The next lot were much quieter and that was a shame. When you are frightened, it’s comforting to have someone to talk to, no matter what they are talking about. Down and down we went, concentrating on moving whenever we were allowed. We’d been struggling down the stairs for thirty minutes and it felt as though someone had turned up the heat on an oven we were all in.
To be continued …
Bio: Shirley wondered how someone with the added difficulty of being blind might manage to escape from those terrible events causing the destruction of the Twin Towers.