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The Decision (Supplementary Prize Winner - Group III)

March, 2011
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When I was growing up, I couldn’t help thinking that child services wouldn’t be too pleased with my mother. I’d seen them knock on my neighbors’ doors and take them in for questioning. More then once, they’d come home without their babies. That was Harlem in the 90’s, though. Stiffen up and protect yourself; neighbors came and went and sirens screamed all night.

My mother let me go where I pleased, not that she would have noticed if I never came back. So every day I would walk the twenty-five blocks to Columbia University, wander the campus and then sit right in the middle. Framed by Ivy League dorms and Ivy League libraries, I was the perfect picture.

I worked hard in school and got good grades. I was the valedictorian in high school and did community service, the whole bit. With no help from my mother, I was accepted into Columbia to begin studying business in 2001. After I was given a student loan for what the board called “intelligent initiative” and “continued academic excellence”, I taped my payment schedule to my dorm wall and perused my course catalog.

The minute I could, I packed up my room from Harlem and moved it all to my new home. My mother wouldn’t need it, and I wondered absentmindedly how long it would take her to realize that I was gone for good. I was so full of hope, then, so close to a new beginning. So close.

We had a week to pick classes but I already knew what I wanted to take. Instead, I spent the time taking the subway to places in New York that I had never been. On Monday I flipped a coin: Times Square or Wall Street? Times Square. Wall Street tomorrow, I decided. That night, with only the hum of the radiator and the buzz of Times Square traffic ringing in my ears, I lay my head contentedly on the pillow.

The next day I approached the financial district, my shoes grating against the sidewalk. I felt like the only person in a thousand miles, it was so quiet. I checked my watch and noted that it was still quite early, so I stopped in a convenience store to ask for directions. Then I continued on my way further south.

The date was September 11, 2001.

I rounded a corner and looked up.

Just in time to see an airplane collide with the World Trade Center, just in time to see the building begin to crumble. Just in time to hear the screaming.

It still echoes in my head. In my dreams I can see the bloody bodies of the victims, the flag of my country burning in the background, the anguish of the people on the streets whose faces were painted with horror. Only this time the siren, my shrieking lullaby, wails in the distance. Help is coming, it says.  So close.

Then the suffocating debris falls from the chasm in the building above. It smothers me—I wake with a start and cry for my mother.

 

By Gabriella Rader,

Yew Chung International School of Shanghai

 

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