I was watching the News this morning and I was reminded that the 14th Anniversary of 9-11 is fast approaching.
Over the next three days, I would like to share with you Chapter 8 of my book OneThreeThirteen, not as a way to sell books, but as a way to remember.
Chapter 8 – Part 1 of 3
AT 7:58 p.m. ON MONDAY, September 10, 2001, Rashidah Miller pushed the down button on elevator bank number five of World Trade Tower Number Two, or as it were more commonly called by New Yorkers, The South Tower.
Corporate offices for nearby St. Catherine-Sabina Hospital were located on the South Tower’s eightieth floor.
As Rashidah waited for the elevator a sense of peace and resolution came over her. Inwardly, she knew she was doing the right thing by resigning her post as Chief Resident of St. Catherine-Sabina’s ER.
After five years of marriage Rashidah and her husband David Miller had finally succeeded in getting past the first trimester of a pregnancy, which for them was often a difficult and heart wrenching stage. All of their other pregnancies had ended or had been forced to end because of complications during the first trimester.
Both she and her husband David were young, healthy, and strong. They simply had never perceived a problem with becoming pregnant. Having children was something they’d taken for granted.
Rashidah smiled thinking of all the times she’d pushed David away for fear of becoming pregnant before they were wed. A pre-marriage pregnancy would have seriously angered her traditional parents and put a permanent rift in an already strained relationship.
Rashidah glanced up at the elevator’s illuminated dial and saw that the elevator was on its way down from the Top of The World Trade Center Observatory located on the 107th floor. She resigned herself to the wait and rubbed her hands across her growing belly. Safely at the end of her fourth month with a lively and viable fetus, she and David were anxiously planning for the delivery of their first child.
Both she and David wanted a large family like the ones they’d grown up in. But things were not looking especially well for them in that area. Right now she’d fall down on her hands and knees and give much praise to Allah for the safe delivery of this child.
Ironically, the blame for their difficulty in getting pregnant and staying pregnant as it had turned out was neither hers nor David’s. It was a direct result of both of their families’ strict marriage traditions, which by marrying David she’d thought she’d broken with her being a Qahtanian Arab and David, a Mizrahi Jew.
Both cultures, however, were steeped in consanguinity. Her own mother and father were first cousins. And David’s parents were second cousins. As a result, she had Beta Thalassemia Intemedia and David had Haemophilia C Disease. This however, they did not discover until well after they were married and after her second miscarriage.
David, a newspaper columnist for the New York Times, had come into the ER with a severely sprained ankle after falling off his bike.
Rashidah had parted the exam room curtain and sitting on the gurney was a young man with dark curly hair and the most amazing green eyes she’d ever seen. He was wearing a gray Harvard sweatshirt, jeans, and a Yankees baseball cap, worn with the brim to the back. Something about him just clicked, she’d later tell a friend.
But Rashidah reminded herself to remain professional and aloof. She started her exam with the usual questions for which he had some amusing answers.
“Is this your first visit to St. Catherine-Sabina’s ER?”
“Yes. But I would have been here sooner if I’d known someone as beautiful as you worked here.”
Rashidah smiled politely, but inside she was as giddy as a school girl.
“Yes. I’m allergic to eating dinner alone.”
He was definitely growing on her.
“How did you sustain you injury?”
“I was dreaming about meeting you and I didn’t see the pothole in the road.”
Soon, David had her laughing at his jokes and her phone number. They’d dated in secret for six months before taking the crucial first steps toward marriage by meeting each other’s parents.
The elevator door opened and Rashidah stepped in. She searched the long column of numbers listed near the elevator door and selected the fortieth floor. On the fortieth floor, she’d switch to another set of elevators that would take her to the main lobby and from there, she’d switch to yet another set of elevators, rather than take the escalators, that descended into the garage under the World Trade Center.
They had married at the end of her first year of residency. And she and David had been very very careful not to get pregnant until after she’d finished her second year of residency.
The loss of her first child was still a painful memory. After she was three days late with her period, she’d given herself a pregnancy test and had been delighted with a positive result. She’d called her family and shared the good news with them. And David, likewise, had done the same.
The elevator glided to a stop on the fortieth floor and Rashidah stepped out mingling unnoticed in a crowd of people, who more than likely worked in the building. She and some of the crowd moved towards the elevators that would take them to the ground floor main lobby.
Two weeks later, the pregnancy was all over. After a thirty-six hour shift in the ER, she had awaken the next morning with excruciating pains in her abdomen. She’d called David at the paper and had urged him to come home. While she waited, she’d done all of the things she’d told other women to do in the same situation. She put a pillow beneath her legs and tried to remain calm. But the cramping grew steadily worse. She needed something for the pain. Her doctor’s bag, covered in dust, was in a chair in the corner of the room. When she stood, trying to get to the bag, filled with pharmaceutical samples, blood streamed down the insides of her legs and puddle at her feet. She miscarried before David made it home. Her second pregnancy had been much the same.
It was her OBGYN who had suggested that she and David undergo genetic testing. It was determined that both miscarriages were more than likely due to Alpha Thalassemia Major.
After many discussions, sleepless nights, and tears, she and David had decided to try one more time. But, in order to increase their chances of having a normal child, they had undergone invitro fertilization and embryo selection. They’d also come to the conclusion that her pressure cooker job as an emergency room doctor had to be put on hold until after the baby was born.
The doors of the second elevator opened and Rashidah and the crowd spilled out into the main lobby. Most everyone except Rashidah either headed for the main lobby doors leading to New York’s dark busy streets or the escalators down into the garage. Rashidah not wanting to risk a fall on the escalators walked the short distance over to a set of elevators tucked into the corner of the building.
On the ride down to the garage, Rashidah rubbed her belly once more, and though sad about resigning her position and leaving her friends in the ER, she was buoyed by the joy of becoming a mother. This pregnancy was proof positive that Allah had finally smiled on their marriage.
A sudden drop in the elevator’s speed alerted Rashidah that she was nearing her final destination — the parking garage below The South Tower.
The elevator doers opened and as Rashidah stepped out, she was temporarily blinded by a camera flash.
She was struck hard across the face and she stumbled backwards into the elevator. Dumbstruck she raised her hands to defend herself and opened her mouth to scream. But strong hands covered her mouth and forced her arms behind her back. A man was pushing his body against hers. Fear ran through every cell of her body. “Oh God, I’m going to be raped, she thought. No Not now! Not with my precious baby inside me,” she tried to yell.
But instead of raping her, the man shoved a gag into her mouth, tied her up, and dragged her into one of the garage’s maintenance closets.
MIKAIL ALAM HADDAD, aka Michael Allen Smith, promising young photography student at Columbia University was making his way down to one of the lower level parking areas when he heard Salama whispering in Farsi that a woman had taken the garage elevator and was on her way down.
Minutes earlier, he’d finished shooting exterior photos of the South Tower as his brethren worked within the garage setting explosives.
“I’ll take care of her Salama,” he whispered back into the walkie-talkie. Michael watched as the numbers on the garage elevator kept descending. He prayed within himself to Allah that the numbers would stop at Sub-Level 2. But they did not, as he knew they wouldn’t. He regarded this as Allah’s test of his loyalty and devotion.
He readied himself for whomever or whatever was going to step out of that elevator. He reminded himself that they could not afford to have anyone make a report of suspicious people lurking around in the garage. Because of the 1993 bombing, Security would be all over that. And a sweep of the garage, by Security, would reveal the hidden charges that Salaam and the others had already set while he was outside.
Michael Allen Smith was a second generation Iraqi immigrant. However, few people outside of his immediate family knew this. Michael, by all accounts was an All-American boy. He had closely cropped dark brown hair and dreamy brown eyes framed with long fringy lashes. Lots of people mistook him for Italian.
His mother, Safia al Ali, had moved to the United States, at the urging of The Emir, Youssef bin Caneer, after his father was killed in the 1991 failed bombing of the bridge over the Euphrates in the city of his birth, Fallujah.
Michael held his mother in great esteem. She had sacrificed honor, home, and family to become one of the ‘Runned Away Ones.’ She had steadfastly retained her loyalty to Iraq and Saddam Hussein even with the overwhelming influence of western society. He remembered her telling him that the United States was like the wind, “with you one day and against you the next.”
She had told him of how the United States had assisted and directed Kuwait in its actions of violating the OPEC oil production agreements to undercut the price of oil for the sole purpose of destabilizing Iraq’s economy. And when Iraq had taken action, the United States had used that as a reason for bombing their home in Iraq.
Her loyalty to her country had been such that she had agreed to come to the United States and make marriage with an American man by the name of Henry Smith. Henry Smith, his step-father, was given one hundred thousand American dollars up front for the use of his name and twenty-five thousand dollars a month, every month for the support of Michael and his mother.
All in all, Henry had turned out to be a good step-father, generous and kind. But, rather dumb, never fully knowing the woman or child living under his roof.
But now it was Michael’s turn to prove his loyalty to family and country. He readied himself. The elevator slowed to a stop in front on him, as he felt it would. He raised his camera, the one with the big flash, and waited.
The next day, September 11, 2001, he’d sell copies of his photos and the film he’d take, of the building before its destruction, to one of the major television stations. The originals he hoped, would find their way back to Youssef bin Caneer.
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