Layers of Dust and Debris

By Cécile Oumhani

Another year and its layers of dust and debris. Ten years gone by and the pictures, the words still as sharp and vivid. Glass you dare not touch with your fingers. It all happened across the Atlantic, very far away. The horror reverberating around the planet in a matter of minutes. It has never stopped reverberating. A wound buried deep in our flesh. A wound that has never healed. So many lives shattered to pieces in a matter of seconds.

“My friend says planes have crashed into the Twin Towers. She has gone crazy, for sure.” The metro ran deep under the ground in pitch darkness. The girl in front of me slipped her cellphone back into her purse, as she turned to the person beside her. Surely she must be out of her mind to say that. So I thought.

“What has happened in New York is just horrible,” a man exclaimed behind me, about fifteen minutes later, long after the girl had gone. A thick invisible cloud was wrapping itself around me, ice-cold and clammy. Surely something had happened, something I would have to face when the metro emerged into broad daylight.

Barely had I switched on the television when B. rang up from Tunisia, dizzy with shock and disbelief. He had been attending the wedding of a cousin. He told me how he had spent his afternoon in one of his favorite Turkish baths. Built in an ancient Roman spa, it was dug out of the mountain centuries ago. To get there, you go down rock-hewn steps along subterranean walls. A young boy had burst in with the news and no one would believe him. B. hadn’t either, until he walked past one of the cafés of the spa. He had stopped in front of one of those TV screens that seem to be on all day. Although the pictures were blurred, he knew the youngster had been telling the truth. I put back the receiver.

Hours, it took hours to try and put the fragments together. Or rather days, weeks and more… The streets of Paris were deserted as millions sat watching the scenes over and over again, still unable to realize they did not belong to some horror film.

Years after, they are still there, unmistakable, inevitable shapes standing in the darkness, blocking the way. With ever more fragments retrieved from the original scene. Random bits forever seeping into our lives as we meet eyewitnesses, friends of friends, relatives of victims, each with their strands of broken memories made of loss and grief.

Tunis, September 8, 2011


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