I sat in awkward silence with Bianca, Calla Wiley’s artsy roommate, while our cab weaved through traffic. It only had to go a few blocks to reach my work, but it seemed like everyone was out on the streets for lunch. We hit three red lights with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
As a result, our taxicab pulled up to my building just as lunch hour was finishing. People scurried along the street to return to their places of business, while I stepped out of the cab and offered a hand to Bianca. She accepted it with a soft smile, and I wondered if we were declaring a truce. I opened my mouth to say something.
And a deafening boom erupted overhead.
Acting purely on instinct, I shoved Bianca down and forward, knocking her into the backseat. I leapt in atop her, a human shield. A split second later the cab was hit by innumerable shards of glass, tinkling off the roof and windshield like hard rain. They hit with enough force to scratch the glass windows. The vehicle rocked for a moment and then settled back down. My ears were ringing from the explosion, but that shower of glass splinters had still sounded like a downpour or machine gun fire.
Bianca was trying to say something, but it seemed muffled. I wondered if I’d lost some hearing, or if my nervous system was just trying to deal with the shock. She hit my shoulder and I realized she was telling me to get off her. I got up slowly, tilting my body so she could sit up. I moved to the other side of the seat and looked out the open door.
People were running here and there, covering their heads. Some were cowering against walls. More than a few had lacerations from the glass. Papers blew all over, some of them smouldering. Smoke cast a pall over the air. I could barely make out the sound of sirens in the distance. I looked up.
My father’s building was burning. It looked like all the windows had been blown out about three quarters of the way up the building, and dark trails of smoke were still raining soot down on the city. I thought I caught glimpses of flames, and wondered what the firefighters would do when they got here.
I looked back at Bianca, whose eyes were wide with shock. She was staring upwards at the smoky destruction. The cabbie was shouting something, but I couldn’t make it out. The ringing in my ears was too much. My whole body felt like it was trembling, and I looked at my hands. They weren’t shaking, though it felt like it. It was as if the explosion had rocked my body, and not just my ears. I wondered dreamily if this was an adrenal reaction, and imagined my pulse must be racing.
Yet everything moved in slow motion.
Bianca exited the cab, looking upwards in awe. She put a hand on my arm. I looked down at it, surprised. I couldn’t tell if she was reaching out to steady herself or offer consolation. I was too numb to need it. I wondered how long that would last.
An eternity later, though it was probably only a few minutes, cops and firefighters were on the sidewalk, directing people and assessing damage. The activity made me dizzy, so I didn’t fight the paramedic who guided me to a nearby ambulance and made me sit down. Someone draped a blanket over Bianca and me, and we sat close like children while the world rushed around us.
I regained my hearing an octave at a time, it seemed. One moment there was only ringing, and then there were the high-pitched wails of sirens. I started snatching bits of words as people screamed or cried or yelled. Voices started to cut through the din.
I sat there, bewildered, as I relearned how to hear. I turned to look at Bianca. She gripped my hand in hers, interlocking our fingers. She gave a comforting squeeze.
“Can you hear me?” I asked.
She nodded. “You’re yelling.”
“Sorry,” I tried to soften my voice. “Is that better?”
“Much,” she grinned.
We sat there in silence for a bit longer, watching the police and emergency crews as they rushed back and forth. I wondered if anyone died. I wondered what had caused the explosion. I wondered where we would be working tomorrow.
“I guess we won’t be checking your messages, huh?” Bianca said.