Sydney heeded Doctor Tawil’s advice and drove up to Saint Luke’s where he and his family waited for a slot in the emergency room’s schedule. The joint wasn’t jumping so the wait was relatively short. After helping Athol get Maggie through reception he told his wife, “I’m going to wait in the truck. I doubt anybody would have bothered our bikes on the trail but leaving them in the back of the pickup here’s just asking for them to get stolen.”
He spent about an hour sitting in the pickup, alternating between snoozing and worrying, before his wife came over and tapped on the truck’s window. “How is she?” he asked.
“Oh, she’s fine. The doctor in there very highly of Dr. Tawil and Maggie’s ready to come home. We just have to drive over to the ER entrance and then we can leave.”
“Well that’s good news,” Sydney said, starting his truck and driving the few hundred feet to where his wife pointed. “I’m glad she’s okay. That was scary.”
“It was,” Athol agreed, squeezing Syd’s hand. Sydney put the truck in park and they walked over to the sliding glass door vestibule area where Maggie sat in a wheelchair attended by an orderly.
“Ready, Freddy?” Sydney asked.
Maggie just nodded and then was helped into the truck by the orderly and Sydney. “Thank you,” chorused the Porters to the woman wielding the wheelchair who smiled and waved, telling Maggie to stay safe.
Once everyone was buckled in the truck Sydney asked, “Ready to go home?”
Margaret looked at him and asked, “What about our ice cream?”
“Ice cream!?” Sydney exclaimed, “I guess you are feeling better. Well, since we’re this close we might as well go over to Parlor City.”
The rest of Sunday was low key and uneventful. Before sending Maggie to bed Sydney asked, “You’re okay to go to school tomorrow; right? And then spend the night with Grandma MJ and Poppy?”
“Yes. I’m fine,” she answered. She kissed her parents goodnight, added, “Love you guys,” and headed off to bed.
Six-thirty a.m. on Monday was very similar to what 6:30 a.m. on Sunday had been. Sunrise was a quarter hour or so away but the world that greeted Sydney on his thirty-ninth birthday was awash in beautiful indirect light, the air was cool and the sky cloud free. He reached over and kissed his sleeping wife before heading to the bathroom to attend morning ablutions. Dressed only in underwear he went downstairs and started a pot of coffee before climbing back upstairs to dress.
Finished with the basic tasks of bathing and dressing himself he went out and gathered his two newspapers which he flipped through while satisfying the third basic requirement of his morning; eating. A thrilling bowl of high fiber cereal and cup of coffee started his day and at 7:00 Sydney put his dishes in the dishwasher, filled a travel mug with sweetened coffee and went upstairs where he brushed his teeth before going to his wife’s side and kneeling by the bed.
“Okay, Bahama Mama, I’m off for a day at the salt mine. Your folks’ll pick Maggs up after school. I left a note for her on the table letting Mrs. Hoefer know about MJ and Al picking her up today. I should be home before six thirty and our reservation is for 7:00 so be glammed up for our big night out. Oh! And bring a toothbrush and some panties; we may not make it home tonight.”
Athol opened an eye and asked, “For real? I mean the not coming home tonight bit.”
“For real. You told me to plan so I planned. See you tonight, hot stuff,” he said, as he kissed her lightly and began to pull away.
“Not so fast, Mr. Porter. First, a real kiss,” she said, giving him a lingering embrace, “and then happy birthday. I love you.”
Sydney smiled and said, “I love you too. See you tonight.”
“Say goodbye to Maggie; she’ll be upset if she doesn’t get to wish you happy birthday.”
Sydney sighed and looked at his watch. “Okay. Will do. Love you.”
Leaving his room he knocked gently on his daughter’s door and opened it without waiting for an answer. “Boo Bear? It’s me, Daddy,” he whispered, kneeling by her side. “Just saying goodbye. Remember that Grandma and Poppy are picking you up after school; there’s a note for your teacher on the table. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said as he kissed his daughter’s cheek.
Margaret opened her eyes but didn’t say anything until Sydney started to get up. “Okay. Oh. Happy birthday, Daddy.”
“Thanks, sweetie,” he answered, ruffling her head. “See you soon. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Driving from Swisher to 51st Street in Cedar Rapids seldom took a half hour and Sydney pulled into work with a few minutes to spare. Unlocking the store’s back door he shut off the alarm system and began getting Tyson’s ready for another day of business. His crew trickled in and the store was ready to greet customers before the eight o’clock hour arrived.
Upstairs in the employee’s only area there was a cake with “Happy birthday Sydney” waiting in the break-room. Seeing the cake, he walked over to Janet’s office to thank her.
“No problem, boss man. Have fun tonight.”
“Thanks. I will.”
A few minutes before eight Sidney made a last check on the front registers. Over the intercom he hears, “Mr. Porter, you have a call on line one. Mr. Porter, line one.”
Returning to his upstairs office he picks up his phone and says, “This is Sydney Porter.”
Athol is on the line. “Hey. I hate to call you at work but have you seen what’s going on? A plane just crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. I had the TV on and just wanted you to know.”
“You’re kidding me. No, I hadn’t heard. I’ll have to flip one on. Maggie get to school okay?”
“Sure, no problem. See you tonight, birthday boy.”
“Looking forward to it. G’bye.”
Walking out of his office and down to Janet’s he said, “Athol called. A plane hit one of the Twin Towers in New York. She said it’s all over the news.”
“For real? That’s weird. Turn it on, will you?” she asked, pointing toward the remote sitting on top of her set.
The TV was tuned to KCRG channel 9 and ABC had live coverage of the smoldering tower. “Holy crap,” Sydney exclaimed. “That had to be some plane. The towers burning.”
“Oh my gosh, it really is, isn’t it? I hope everyone’s okay.”
Syd made a face at her. “I’m sure not everyone is. Jesus. You want this thing on? I’m going to do a quick walk-about and let the staff know.”
“Yeah, leave it. Wow,” Janet said, muting the sound when Sydney handed her the remote.
Sydney decide to walk the floor and tell his employees of the sad and strange event in New York but at 8:03 Janet’s voice came over the intercom. “Sydney Porter, please come to your office. Mr. Porter, you’re needed in your office please.”
Sydney climbed the narrow staircase that led to his office but Janet intercepted him. “That New York thing wasn’t any accident. Another big jet just hit the other tower. This is some kind of attack or terrorism. I just wanted to let you know.”
Just before nine o’clock the collapse of the South Tower is broadcast live. The North Tower collapses half an hour later. Reports that the Pentagon has been similarly hit, that other planes are possibly in the air making for unknown targets and that all air travel in the US has been grounded except military flights is broadcast through the airways during an unprecedented apocalyptic 75 minutes of confused chaos. The words “Muslim Terrorists” are repeated frequently throughout the broadcasts. Sydney Porter is doing his best to keep the store running but everywhere around him everyone is confused and frightened. Stationing himself at the front of the store he solemnly greets the people who enter Tyson’s. Into this media melee of terrible tension Dr. Hata Tawil walks into Tyson’s Home, Farm and Auto unaware of the calamitous conditions that the United States finds itself under.
A dozen eyes within the store follow Dr. Tawil as he enters Tyson’s. Sydney starts walking to him from the front registers. “Dr. Tawil, what are you doing here?” he asks.
Tawil smiles at Sydney. “I told you that I had some things I need to pick up. How is your daughter? Fine, I hope?”
“Yeah. Yeah, she’s okay.” Noticing the glaring eyes that radiated distrust if not contempt for his new friend Sydney beckons him to follow. “You’d better come with me. Where have you been for the last two hours?” he whispers frantically as he leads him up to his office. “Have you heard about the attacks?”
“What attacks are you talking about? I’ve been out working in my yard. Why? What’s going on?”
“The United States is under attack. The Pentagon has been hit and both of the Twin Towers collapsed, killing thousands. It looks like Muslims are responsible. How could you not know?”
“What is that supposed to mean? ‘Muslims are responsible?’ I’ve been out in my yard. How was I to know? Besides, this has nothing to do with me. I am an American. This is horrific. I love this country!”
“Yeah, I know. But those other people don’t. I’m really a little worried for you, Doc.”
Tawil’s face broke into a slightly patronizing grin. “Oh, don’t be silly. I mean, I appreciate your concern but I’ve lived here for over twenty years. I’ve been a citizen since 1986. I am a physician. Surely no one would connect me to acts of brutality.”
“I hope you’re right but I think today might be a good day for you to lay low. Could you come back another day? I hate to ask, I’m just worried for you, that’s all.”
“I told you, you’re being-”
Before he could finish his sentence Janet poked her head in the office. “Oh. Well, hello. Uh, Syd, have you looked at our security cameras lately? It looks like we’ve got folks who’ve armed themselves with some of our tools and are headed this way. Does this have anything to do with your, uhm, guest here?”
“Oh, Christ. This is what I was afraid of. These people are riled up, Doc. We’ve got to get you out of here. Follow me, we’ll take the back staircase to the rear parking lot and get you out that way. Janet, you’d better call the cops.”
“Cops? And tell them what?”
“I don’t know! To get over here. I’m afraid we’re going to have a riot.”
“Sydney, this makes no sense,” Dr. Tawil insisted.
“Ordinarily I’d agree with you but today I hope you’ll just let me help you the way you helped me yesterday, okay?”
Tawil sighed deeply. “Fine. I appreciate your concern. We’ll do things your way,” he conceded shaking his head, “but I’m sure you are just being paranoid,”
Sydney’s way wasn’t as effective as he’d hoped. The pair sidled along the narrow catwalk that led to the back of the store but were surprised when angry customers, accompanied by bewildered employees, waited at the top of the rear staircase. “John,” Syd demanded of one of his more seasoned workers, “what the hell is going on? You know customers aren’t allowed up here.” As he said this another angry mob made their way up using the front steps and the crabs pincers began to converge with Sydney and Hata in the nexus.
“I don’t know what’s going on, Mr. Porter,” John sheepishly admitted. “We just don’t think that this Arab fellow belongs here and they want him out. Pronto.”
“Well this ‘fellow’ is my guest and my friend. He’s also the doctor who helped my daughter Maggie yesterday when she was injured. I want all of you to get out of our way and then Doctor Tawil, who has done nothing wrong and is an American citizen, will leave. Got it?”
John looked down at his feet and muttered, “Yeah, I suppose.” As he did so the group from the front of the store rushed Sydney and Hata. The catwalk shook ferociously under the force and weight of so many hyperactive occupants and Porter tried to shield Tawil from the onrushing scrum. In the confused jostling Sydney was knocked from the catwalk and fell over twenty five feet onto the concrete floor below. Twisting in midair he landed head first and a resounding thump like a dropped David Letterman watermelon stilled the excited hornets’ nest. Everyone but Tawil stared in horrified, motionless disbelief.
“Get out of my way!” he demanded. “Let me get to him!” he insisted as he jostled and pushed through the men who moments earlier had threatened him.
Dr. Tawil ran down the stairs to where Sydney Porter lay unmoving on Tyson’s showroom floor. He checked for a pulse but found none and with the back of Syd’s head smashed in Tawil chose to simply wait in respectful prayerful silence with his now dead friend until the police arrived. Sydney was transported to Saint Luke’s hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Hours later, when he finally arrived back at his home, news of the 9/11 tragedy filled Dr. Tawil’s television and computer: Four hijacked planes, three successful Kamikaze attacks that murdered well over 2,000 people and forty more apparent victims in a field in Pennsylvania. The violence that Hata Tawil had managed to escape in the Iranian uprising of 1979 was all around him, attacking and tearing at his adopted nation, and because of his color and heritage he had been viewed as one of the savages.
“Well,” he said, looking out his back window at his plentiful vegetable garden, “I suppose it is as Candide said, ‘All that is very well, but let us cultivate our garden.’ I am sure that in this great land justice and law shall soon rule again; after all, this is America.”