40 flights…45…50. His legs strained under the load of more than 100 pounds of gear. He would feel this tomorrow, for sure, but for now, adrenaline and the drive to help, to get to where he could help, kept him climbing. A seemingly endless stream of frightened people pushed past him on their way down. Somewhere around the 50th floor, he began to see signs of the fire. A man clutched his arm, tears streaking the soot that ringed his eyes. His mouth opened as if to say something, but he just shook his head, released his grip and hurried downward. A young woman stopped him two flights farther up. “My friend is on the 61st floor” her eyes pleaded with him “she is under her desk. We couldn’t get her to leave. Please help her. Her name is Mary.” He nodded and moved on, touching his breast pocket, where he kept three pictures of his wife (who was also named Mary) and their baby girl. He had one picture from each of her three birthdays. At the 61st floor, the door to the stairwell had been propped open. He stepped into the deserted office and looked around. “Mary?” he called. The building shuddered. He looked up just as the ceiling rushed down on him.
40 paces…45…50. Then turn and 50 more. His legs weak from lack of food, but adrenaline and fear keeping him awake. Other “soldiers”, just out of puberty pushed past him, unable to sleep through the constant sound of American bombs. Occasionally one would land close enough to light the sky and the faces of his fellow conscripts. One clutched his arm, tears streaking the dust that ringed his eyes. His mouth opened as if to say something, but he just shook his head, released his grip and shuffled on. A young boy, who should have been playing in the street or studying in school, stopped him. “Please tell me the Americans won’t come here” his eyes pleaded with him. “I heard they were dropping food.” He pulled the scarf around his neck that his mother had given him when he left for the front, snugged his threadbare jacket and prayed that she would escape the bombs. He remembered that today was his sister’s third birthday. The roar of a jet engine shook the ground. He looked up just as the bomb rushed down on him.