For One Fearful Moment I Long For Home

On the eve of Thanksgiving, just as I was about to go on TV to deliver a light-hearted spoof about what life would be like for Barack Obama without his BlackBerry, the screens filled with the terrible footage of the attacks on Mumbai. While we watched the gruesome spectacle, ticker-tape warnings at the bottom of the screens stated that the FBI had got wind of an al Qaeda plot to bomb subways and other public transport in New York city for Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving when stores give one-off huge discounts and people get up as early as 4am to shop.

Pundits were quick to point out the obvious: the fear generated by a combination of the Indian attacks and more local threats could turn Black Friday into Red Friday – in other words, despite massive discounts, consumers wouldn’t venture into Manhattan to spend. And that would have a disastrous knock-on effect for the economy.

Even before the return of al Qaeda, the recession has made New Yorkers fractious and fearful – unlike themselves, in fact. Many people who aren’t tied here have left. “Life is much happier in LA,” a German friend emailed me. I envied him. Last week, for the first time since I moved here 11 years ago, I really wanted to get out of this town. It has become the hotspot for lightning-speed changes in one’s circumstances. One moment, everything’s fine; the next, it’s absolutely not.

Right after I saw the Mumbai footage I got an email from a British friend, my son’s godfather – he’d been staying in the Oberoi hotel, targeted in Mumbai. He’d got out of the hotel and was safe in a friend’s apartment, but shooting was going on around him. He was without his passport and he was worried about the hostages.

At that moment, the idea of delivering a satire on TV (which obviously didn’t happen) paled in comparison to the important stuff: life, death things many of us New Yorkers can be too quick to forget about as we avidly pursue our careers.

For me, last week, the uncertainty of things in New York was, for a moment, overwhelming. I climbed into my bed in the afternoon and wished I could return to England. Things are not safer or more economically stable there but I just really wanted the comfort of the family I grew up with. Around me Americans were travelling to be with their families. And I, too, wanted to come home. V

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