December 11, 2017, began as a typical day in New York City and the rest of the world, but to me it was my birthday. I had never been the type to go all out for birthdays, so I got ready for school and walked five minutes to the C train like I always did.
At the station, I swiped my green, student metrocard and stood at the platform, blasting music through my ear buds and feeling a little more joyous as the lyrics and music enveloped me. The train pulled into the station relatively empty as usual, and I took my seat ready to head down all the way to 42nd Street.
This ride, however, my train stopped at 59th Street and stayed there. After around ten patient minutes of waiting, I heard the conductor address us passengers through his intercom. “This train will not be making any further stops. All passengers, please exit the train and wait for the one directly behind us. Sorry for any inconvenience.”
When you’re a New Yorker like me, you come to understand that most of what comes out of conductors’ mouths is false. I was fully aware there was no train directly behind us, so my next step was to try to find a different way to get to 42nd. Luckily, 42nd Street is one of those stops where literally every train heads, and from 59th Street I could easily transfer over to the 1 train.
So that’s what I did. But, when the crowded 1 train pulled into the station, I realized that something was not quite right. New Yorkers know that when a train is over-crowded, something’s wrong. I squeezed into the train car anyway, and after the doors closed, the train did something upsetting to any New Yorker: It skipped stations at 50th and 42nd, then went straight to 34th. Walking out, I could tell everyone felt as as flustered as I did. What was going on? I thought. Why today of all days should the trains be messed up?
As I waited on the opposite side for the uptown train to 42nd Street, I checked my phone and knew I was going to be late. My friends were experiencing similar problems, some not even able to get on a train because of how crowded they were. I felt my face clench and every sound around me fade into the background of my own irritation. The train pulled into the station, and instead of getting on, I turned around and made my way above ground to walk the eight blocks to school.
As I approached 42nd, however, I became uneasy at the sight of so many police. I was smack in the middle of Times Square, so their presence wasn’t uncommon. However, something about this moment felt excessive. Everywhere the men in uniform stood stiff and unmoving, definitely more than your average street cop. Shields the length of entire human beings, masks revealing only their eyes, and assault rifles ready to engage at any moment. Unsettled, I walked past dozens of them surrounded by barricades and police tape that blocked my path to school.
“Excuse me,” I said to one of uniformed men. “How can I get down to 11th avenue?”
“You’re gonna have to walk around, kid.”
I gritted my teeth and asked what I had been too scared to ask. “Um…What’s going on?”
The officer responded, “We’re trying to contain an incident that happened earlier today in the subway.”
And with that my awful suspicions were confirmed.
Something worse than your average train delay had occurred. Certain that was the most information I would get out of him, I thanked him and worked my way around the barricades to school.
I arrived around 30 minutes into my 2nd period class to see that no one was there. My teacher let me leave, as there was almost no one in class, and so I headed downstairs to the cafeteria in hopes of finding someone I knew. There I encountered my friend Amy at a table in the far back by herself. Her attention was glued to her phone until she heard my footsteps. She ushered me to hurry over.
We sat together watching a video on her phone. Everything happened so quick. One moment everyone was walking in the tunnel with their usual swiftness, and the next moment a smoke-filled explosion sent everyone running. As the smoke cleared, a man could be seen lying on the ground, and a flurry of armed cops stormed in. They inspected the man and cuffed him, after which the video stopped. Amy and I looked at each other with round, worried eyes, full of anguish like lost puppies looking for their owners.
Slowly throughout the day, more people entered the building. Almost four periods in, our principal came on to the loudspeaker and made an announcement. “Excuse me faculty and students, parents have been notified about the status of today’s earlier incident, and no one will be penalized for missing school today. If your safety is a concern, you may call a parent to escort you out of the building. Otherwise classes are cancelled and all students should take the time to catch up on anything that they might need to.”
It wasn’t too long until most of our friends arrived, and the dreary worries of the attempted suicide bombing were overshadowed by the cheers and laughter from my birthday. It was as if it hadn’t really happened and everyone was ready to celebrate. Or maybe we were celebrating that no one was killed. Either way, as soon as I left those school doors that day, things cheered up as I reveled in another full rotation around the sun.
Later, we learned that there was an attempted pipe bomb attack at the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street, a hotspot where many people travel between trains. When checking the times, I realized I was on the train right after the attack, which is why my train went out of service. The man claimed to have terrorist motivations, specifically ISIS motivated. There were no deaths, but four people including the attacker were injured. It made the world feel a lot smaller in terms of how safe I felt. And although nothing actually happened to me physically, the idea that the whole incident was so close to me makes me think about what could’ve happened. In the end, I am glad nothing too terrible happened. And that is the perspective I choose to look through when I think of the outcome of this entire situation.
–By Alpha Bah, Class of 2020