NINE miles lie between the World Trade Center and Highbridge, a Bronx neighborhood of 34,000 just north of Yankee Stadium. The streets here are a jumble of bright sunflowers, broken glass, six-story brick apartment buildings, neat row houses and sagging porches. An occasional rooster pecks at the sidewalks, most of which are cracked with weeds.
By other measures, Highbridge seems more distant from the city's financial core. Although once a solidly middle-class neighborhood, Highbridge has a median family income of $20,700, compared with $48,200 citywide. The unemployment rate is nearly three times the city average. Nearly 40 percent of families in Highbridge are headed by single mothers. The neighborhood, once mostly Jewish and Irish Catholic, is largely Dominican and Puerto Rican. Most other residents are black.
News of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center struck some Highbridge residents like news of another country. They could see smoke pluming in the sky, but the intimacy of the tragedy reached them by television. Others in the neighborhood witnessed the sick, hard rain of terror firsthand. Still others have yet to come home.
But the story of how the attack on the twin towers rolled through this stretch of New York begins the same way it began at ground zero: with the clear blue of an average late-summer morning.
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, started with the usual pilgrimages.
At 7:15 Al Smith looked out the window of his third-floor apartment on Anderson Avenue and called out to Gilbert Ruiz, who was on his way to work in the kitchen of Windows on the World.
"Have a good one, man," Mr. Smith shouted as he waved goodbye.
At 8, Abdoulaye Kone, a pastry chef at Windows on the World, called his wife, Celestine, from work. Mr. Kone, who is from the Ivory Coast, told her he loved her and asked her to call him later to let him know how the children were doing.
At 8:30, the students at the Family Life Academy Charter School in the Latino Pastoral Action Center gathered for their morning assembly.
Then, at 8:48, the day abruptly changed.
A custodian from the Pastoral Action Center who had stayed home from work called in to report that a plane had crashed into the trade center. Isabel Gutierrez, director of the school, was in the assembly when her secretary told her the news.
"I didn't say anything," Ms. Gutierrez said a few days later. "I did not want to alarm the teachers because they were dealing with the kids."
Dana Gerendasi, 26, a new teacher at the school, led her first graders back to their classroom. When she checked her cellphone messages just after 9:30, she heard her husband say: "Dana, it's me. I don't know if you heard, but two planes went into the World Trade Center, and ----" Then he was cut off.
After Mrs. Kone, the pastry chef's wife, took her son and daughter to school, she came home and turned on the television set. She saw an airplane crash into the building where her husband worked. "I immediately got on the train and I walked from 14th Street there," she said.
The Same Conversation, All Over the Neighborhood
By midmorning, Highbridge was strangely still. Delivery trucks did not bang down the pitted streets. The skies were silent. The salsa music that typically spills from windows could be heard only occasionally.
People pooled on street corners. One vast, dispersed conversation settled over the neighborhood. The words seemed familiar -- airplanes and television, God and war -- but the situation did not.
In this strangely focused public discussion, some turned to private metaphor.
"All I could think about was my video game, because that's the way I'd play it," said Glenn Wilson, 23, a construction worker who spent the morning with friends in front of the A&N Deli and Grocery on Ogden Avenue, listening for news. "I know strategic warfare. The Pentagon? That's the defense right there. The twin towers? You take out the money, how you going to build up? The next is transportation."
Police officers told business owners around 170th Street and Jerome Avenue to close up and go home. Jack An stayed because his liquor store is encased by bulletproof glass.
Members of a construction crew working at the Pastoral Action Center listened to the news in Spanish on their radios. The only television in the building was tuned to Univision, the Spanish channel. But Ms. Gerendasi, the first-grade teacher, does not speak Spanish. Her cellphone was not working.
"I couldn't even teach because I had to go out and keep crying," she said. She tried to stay calm. She told her charges: "Everything is fine. Your parents will explain everything to you."
News trickled into the school as parents picked up their children. Ms. Gerendasi heard that the United States Supreme Court had been bombed. The Pentagon was gone. Camp David had been bombed. The White House and the Empire State Building were next. The reservoirs were poisoned.
She hugged the children. She hugged the parents. She said she hoped to see them again. Then she went home to her husband.
The flow of people going home to Highbridge quickened in the late afternoon. Lucy Garcia, 50, an assistant manager of sales at J. P. Morgan Chase, arrived about 4, after a seven-hour walk. When the first plane hit, she had run out of her office at 5 World Trade Center and looked up at the sky.
"I saw this man falling," she said, her voice breaking. "It was so sad because as you see him falling from the window you see these little faces looking out the window. I was going: 'God have mercy on him. Jesus, please help that man.' He's like a little rag doll just falling out the window."
Ms. Garcia ran to a nearby post office to call her family. The phones didn't work. She took refuge in St. Peter's, a Roman Catholic church on Barclay Street.
"People were bleeding in church," she said. "St. Peter's was full." She and some co-workers bought sandals in Chinatown for the long walk north.
All day long, information flowed through Highbridge, an anxious breeze of truth and rumor: It was a goof. The pilot had a heart attack. My cousin didn't go to work. My father did. Two Arabs got stabbed. My baby came home. The roads were rivers of people. I walked and I walked and I walked. This is World War III.
Dark men came home white with ash.
"I was white," said David Morales, who was delivering flowers on Church Street in Lower Manhattan when the first tower fell. "If I had had an Afro, I would have looked like Michael Jackson."
The Bronx suddenly seemed safer than Manhattan. Some people were afraid to leave.
"I don't feel the Bronx is going to be hit, because the Bronx is full of poor people," said Sandra Joyner, who was shooting pool at the Equator Lounge on 170th Street.
Money didn't seem to matter anymore. But for some, race did.
"What about the Palestinians or the Koreans?" said a man who gave his name only as Leonard. "What about the Arabs? Since they're ready to die, what makes us think they aren't ready to blow up their own stores?"
Khalid Ahmad, 50, who works at the A&N Deli, had come to the United States from Yemen 30 years ago. Tuesday evening, a group of young men including Edison Alcantar walked into the deli and demanded of Mr. Ahmad, "You happy about what happened today?"
"I really went in there because they're Arabic," Mr. Alcantar said later. "To see what was on their mind. If they had been happy, I would have snuffed them."
Mr. Ahmad replied: "I told them you better watch your language because I'm an American. What am I going to be happy for?"
"Everybody comes from outside," he added, "and in America they live like a king. They come naked, and they make a living. America is the best country in the world. God bless America."
The day ended with a thick yellow sunset. The southern sky was scarred with smoke. Mr. Kone, the pastry chef, did not come home. Mr. Ruiz, who also worked at Windows on the World, did not stop by the San Miguel Superette to gather things for dinner, as was his custom. At 8:30, his son, Gilbert Ruiz Jr., taped a note to his father's door: "Pops. I was here to see you. I was worrying about you at the job. Call me. I hope you're all right. Your son. Love you, G. Ruiz Jr."
At 170th Street and Jerome Avenue, 50 people gathered in the darkness to pray.
"In the midst of this turbulence, this chaos, there is hope," said the Rev. Evenecer Martinez. "Governments offer their own hope, but our hope is in Christ. Let's make another cry for those who are suffering. New York is in mourning."
They pressed their palms to the sky and said: Come, Jesus! We are walking in the end of times.
The Aftershock Curls Its Way Through
Tomorrow came. Absence curled its way slowly through the neighborhood. Nearly everyone knew someone who had been touched, but often the connections were once or twice removed. It turned out that neighbors, cousins of friends, in-laws and acquaintances were missing. A woman from Sacred Heart Church on Shakespeare Avenue had not shown up for Mass, but no one knew her last name or her phone number.
For a few, absence cut closer. On Wednesday, Mrs. Kone and Gilbert Ruiz Jr. followed what would become a well-worn path: St. Vincent's, Bellevue, N.Y.U. Beth Israel, the Armory. They found nothing.
In the Jerome Avenue subway station, where the No. 4 train stops, rush hour was unrushed. People scratched their heads before a white board dense with service changes. They asked how to get to St. Vincent's and how to get to Brooklyn. At 8:45 a.m., the token booth clerk, Vanessa Halsey, had sold only $500 worth of fares. On a typical day, she would have sold $1,000 to $1,500.
Virginia Unisex beauty salon on Ogden Avenue was filled with talk of the tragedy.
Virginia Molina, who runs the shop, had spoken with her mother in the Dominican Republic. "My mother said she no longer wants to come here," she said. "They don't have this kind of problem in the Dominican Republic."
But Ms. Molina would not consider moving. "We are here in this country, which has supported us when we have most needed it," she said. "We are not going to run away."
Business was down 40 percent at the B&N Deli, 30 percent at Mr. An's liquor store on Jerome Avenue. But One Hour Photo Express, a few doors down, was doing well. Images of ash, twisted metal and rubble rolled through the processing machine. Pem Tenzin and his brother, Yashi Pelden, the owners, from Bhutan, said they had developed 50 percent more film than usual.
Newspapers sold out. A local funeral parlor went on standby.
On Thursday, the paralysis began to lift. Normal life had become an act of patriotism. People tried to work. Ms. Halsey, the token booth clerk, became hoarse explaining the changes in service. MetroCard sales were still down by 30 percent.
Schools reopened. En route to the Family Life Academy aboard the No. 2 train, Ms. Gerendasi sat near four Arabs. Everyone was staring at them. Then one of their cellphones rang. "Everybody screamed," she said. "I screamed because everyone else screamed."
Her first graders spent an hour talking about the tragedy. "I'm trying to teach them that it's O.K. to feel sad," she said.
She asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. They answered: Firefighter. Policeman. Doctor. Hero.
The children drew pictures. Karina drew a tall building with an airplane crashing into it. Six faceless figures floated around the building. "Those are the people who died," she said. She also drew glittering red hearts. When asked why, she replied, "For God's love."
The firehouse of Battalion 17 on Ogden Avenue was draped with black and purple bunting. American flags blossomed. Olga Rodriguez bought one for her Delicioso Coco Helado cart. Bolivar Peguero hung one on his hot-dog and pastelito stand.
"Before this happened, I would have been surprised to see an American flag," said Denae Brewer, editor in chief of The Highbridge Horizon, a bilingual newspaper. "The Puerto Rican flags fly high. The Dominican flags fly high. But not American flags."
At 12:48 p.m. Thursday, El Cheapo Depot on Jerome Avenue sold its last American flag for $1.99.
"We are not the epitome of patriotism," said the Rev. Raymond Rivera, president of the Pastoral Action Center. "We're always talking about the government and how they lack resources for people of color, so usually I'm on the other side. But there was something about this week that made you think twice about that and really appreciate in this unprovoked attack some of the freedoms that we have."
Across the street from El Cheapo Depot, Mildred Smith, who worked in the financial district as an administrative assistant for Verizon, sat drinking a Bacardi and Coke in the Equator Lounge. She had seen people jumping out of the windows holding hands. "It was like rain," she said. She had seen the second plane hit. "It looked like a big black bird, she said. "It looked like death."
"It's something that happened," she said. "I had nothing to do with it, so I can't dwell on it in my mind. People I know got out."
Thursday night, Sacred Heart Church held a vigil for those who didn't get out. Mrs. Kone, who lives just down the street, happened to be walking by when she saw people gathering in the courtyard. Relieved to find she was not alone in her grief, she joined them for the Rosary. "I thought I was the only one on the block," she said.
Friday afternoon, Gilbert Ruiz Jr. went to the apartment building on West 165th Street, where his father had lived for more than a decade, to collect photographs and DNA samples. But Wallace Cooke, the landlord, would not let him in. "He could have been anybody with an ID, like those guys that got on the plane," the landlord said. "I could get sued for millions of dollars. I want my sons to own this building."
At 8 p.m., Mr. Ruiz was still standing on the street, talking to neighbors. A woman said that when her father died, she got into his apartment without incident. But Mr. Ruiz's father was not dead. He was just gone. "I'm next in line," said the son. "I'm junior. I'm supposed to lead the family now. I can't even do that."
One of his sisters had been beaten to death at the end of August. He was shaking.
"The world's in trouble right now," he said. The neighbors began to cry.
'Faith Is the Substance Of Things Hoped For'
The weekend came. Men called on God.
"The world loves us with a cold kind of love," the Rev. Billy Jackson said on Sunday at the Second Southern Baptist Church on Jesup Avenue. "Loves us with unkindness. Loves us with not a gentle love but a love that's horrible. It is not a love from heaven."
Amad Igbara, a Palestinian who came to America 10 years ago and who, with his brothers, owns five stores in Highbridge, said: "Now everybody thinks all the Palestinians are terrorists. That's not good for us in the United States." He said he planned to take his wife and three children out to dinner last Sunday. It would be their first trip out of the house since the attack. "If anything happens," he said, "that's from God."
The routines of daily life reasserted themselves, sometimes from instinct, sometimes from despair.
"I understand life must go on, but the day it happened people were coming in to look for money to pay their rent," said Ms. Brewer, the editor of the local paper, which shares an office with the Highbridge Community Life Center. "It disappointed me."
Mrs. Kone swept leaves and garbage from the gutter in front of her apartment. Her husband stared out from "Missing" posters in her windows and at bus stops and storefronts. He did not come home.
A police office and a locksmith let Mr. Ruiz into his father's apartment. He left with his father's comb, hairbrush, toothbrush and toenail clippings.
Talk in Virginia Unisex beauty parlor shifted to lost jobs, Middle Eastern politics and sleeplessness. Local businesses like Mr. An's liquor store continued to suffer.
"I don't know if I can pay rent this month," Mr. An said. "Usually by this time I'm very busy, but see what I'm doing here? Reading books."
Your's and Our's Cocktail Lounge had a wedding reception. The bride and groom walked over rose petals. People cheered. Flashbulbs popped. The bride's mother called for a moment of silence for the victims. The owner of the bar had lost his sister-in-law on the 84th floor of Tower 2. He sat quietly beneath the balloons.
Early last week, Mr. Ruiz's body was identified. He was buried on Thursday at St. Raymond's cemetery in the East Bronx.
Mr. Kone is still missing. None of his co-workers on the morning shift have come home.
"We believe he is alive because God makes miracles," said Mrs. Kone, whose husband was Muslim. "God's going to bring him out one way or another."
Other people waited too. They waited for war. They waited for peace. They waited for absence to ripen into death. They waited for the damage to be undone.
But the southern sky stayed empty. The smoke was gone. Nothing took its place.
In church, a pastor clutched his Bible. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for," he read. "The evidence of things not seen."