Manhattan Joe's father worked on the 93rd floor of that miserable building in New York.
"There is a great view from my office," the father used to say when his family met new people. He was a mail clerk in an investment firm and had his own little mailroom. Joe was afraid of that tiny room. The walls stood as close as a group of boys in Times Square looking for stupid tourists. Joe felt cornered and hoped the father would hurry. It always took a long time, while his father whistled happily and put letters and express parcels in an ingenious system that no one but him understood. There were no windows in the mailroom, where Dewayne stood four times a day and sorted the mail for the office's 200 employees before rolling out into the office landscape.
"Are you ready, my son?" Always the same words, and Joe had to nod or open his mouth before Dewayne guided the mail van through the narrow doors.
"Well, here we go!"
Joe waited impatiently as the heavy cart slid through the door. After about 5 minutes, they came out to what seemed like endless rows of desks, and Joe's heart settled for the next challenge. Sometimes he had beads of sweat on his forehead, which he discreetly wiped away with his sleeve without his father noticing it. For the rest of his life, Joe retained the inexplicable fear of small spaces.
Joe liked to accompany his father. When Dewayne put the mail in the top paper tray, some of the ladies looked up and smiled warmly when they caught sight of the boy.
"Hey Joe! Good to see you again. You're running out of breath. Is it school holidays?"
Joe nodded. He was so shy that some assumed he must be mute or something. Or a little behind in his development. Truth is, he couldn't speak one straight line, being a stutter. He let his father do the talking.
"Joe is doing an internship for a few days, so he can see how it goes in an efficient workplace. It's good to know when he has to go out and choose a job. Shouldn't end up with a bunch of layabouts. Enjoy your mail, otherwise I can replace it!"
The ladies laughed quickly, as if their small talk would also be measured and weighed by the bosses, just like everything else. Going to the restroom and what not. Without any more words, they returned to their typewriters and reports to be delivered.
As they continued through the office, a calm sense of being fell over Dewayne. Joe could sense that the father was enjoying his work.
"What a view, huh? Aren't we on top of the world? Yes, we are!"
It was Minoru Yamasaki who designed the World Trade Center in New York. When he died in 1986, Joe's father wore a mourning band for an entire day and was tight-lipped when handing out the mail. At dinner, he said a short prayer for Yamasaki's journey to the land of the dead.
"May the good Lord have mercy on his soul," Dewayne said before his pregnant wife and himself tucked into the roast potatoes and turkey meat. In that way, the huge towers, and their architect, were a part of the family when Joe grew up. The towers were like an uncle who was always referred to with respect.
When Arabs placed a truck of explosives in the basement and tore a hole in the bowels of the towers in 1993, Dewayne was furious and ready to chase the criminals around the world.
"They should have a bomb themselves," he hissed with such anger that the 7-year-old Joe momentarily became afraid of him.
Yamasaki has said of his building, that the towers should symbolize humanity's decision to ensure world peace. They should raise a sense of pride in anyone who leaned back and looked up at the 110 floors. A belief in man's ability to cooperate and thereby find greatness.
It took 11 years to build the towers.
Current State, Ambiorn Happy, 2004
When other Arabs in 2001 steered airliners into first the North Tower, and then secondly the South Tower, Dewayne was just prepared to roll the cart out of his mailroom. As he wheeled the wagon through the doorway, an outcry from women and men caught his attention. He turned his head in their direction and saw an airplane peeping through the windows. The plane was inexplicably close to the building.
"It can't be true," he managed to think before the plane exploded furiously in a ball of light on impact with the building. Everything went dark, then light. Dewayne opened his eyes and looked straight into Mr. Yamasaki's smiling face.
"Welcome," said Yamasaki, "you are in Paradise. Now, that's your current state."
3 years later in Denmark, Europe
On a Tuesday afternoon in 2004, Manhattan Joe was in the shop of the grocer in Velling, a few kilometers from the West Coast of Denmark. The young American was an exchange student at the high school in Ringkobing. He lived with a family that was next door to the grocery store and worked there after school. To learn the language. To earn some money for the movies.
The exuberant face of shopkeeper Lassen popped up from the end of the shelf with spaghetti, rice, frying oils and ketchup.
"Joe, can you take the register while I go to Margrethe with a few bags of food?"
Serving customers was more fun than putting items on the shelves, so he quickly finished his work. The grocer grabbed two shopping bags and left the store while Manhattan Joe straightened his tie behind the counter.
Velling is a village. Customers are not that many, but on the other hand, they do like to have a good time and they like to talk to the young American. They ask where he is from. New York City, Bronx, Statue of Liberty. They like to chat with the stranger and impress him with how much they know about his country, while at the same time trying not to offend the young man or embarrass him. They never ask Joe about the World Trade Center, because shopkeeper Lassen has told them not to. "His father died in that tragedy!"
It is almost three o'clock when Trine enters the shop.
"Hi," he replies. Smiles shyly, a smile that reveals he is a young man who likes the girl very much. They are both in twelfth grade and know each other from school break times and a few parties.
"Are you alone?"
"Yes, Lassen is out with goods for Margret. What are you going to buy?"
Trine looks around the shop. Her eyes check out washing powder, vegetables, cans of mincemeat, the weeklies and newspapers, bags of candy.
"I need something sweet," she says slowly. Looking Joe in the eye. "I love something sweet."
"Yes, a good taste in my mouth. Something sweet, as sweet as you." She laughs.
Joe doesn't know what to say. His face is getting hot, he can feel it. He is afraid that the ears will also turn red. For a brief moment, he recalls being as shy as when he was with his father at work and the women gently mocked him. It annoys him. He doesn't want to feel like a little boy again. He breathes quickly and deeply and then he stutters hastily:
Trine laughs. Her eyes sparkle with joy and happiness. She stands very close to the counter.
"Do you think I'm cute? Like wine gum? Like strawberries?"
Manhattan Joe's palms are moist. He can feel the sweat starting to run under his armpits.
"You are as sweet as the sweetest girl in the whole world!"
"I just love you," Manhattan Joe speaks clearly and without stuttering. His eyes are warm. This moment is the happiest of his life, he tells himself later, but he feels it now in the present.
"I love you too," Trine replies.
The explosion is huge. A large ball of light.
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