May 6, 2011
The bus making its way through the South Bronx on Monday was unusually alive with chatter.
"Obama got Osama!" a gray-bearded man in a Yankees jacket gloated loudly to his seat-mate. "That's poetry!"
"Beautiful," the other replied. "I heard they threw his body into the sea. Now he sleeps with the fishes."
"Ha! He smells so bad even the fishes won't eat him."
A middle-aged lady in the seat ahead piped up in Spanish. "He killed so many people. Now he's tasting his own medicine."
"No me gusta, the way they just took him out," said a young woman across the aisle. "It's just more killing. They shoulda captured him. I wanted to see what he had to say. Maybe he was sorry."
"Too late, baby," a man in a wheelchair said from the front. "He gone for good now. He gave all those people at Ground Zero hell on earth for a few hours, but he's gonna burn forever."
A well-dressed woman sitting next to me handed me a pamphlet. On the cover, yellow and red flames licked around the title: "Hellfire: Is It Part of Divine Justice?"
"Read this," she said to me softly. "Go to your bible and see for yourself."
I glanced at the tract, from the Jehovah's Witnesses. "Have you ever seen someone tortured?" it began. "We hope not. Deliberate torture is sickening and abhorrent. ... Many religions teach that God tortures sinners in an eternal hellfire. ... Would a God of love inflict torture that even humans with any measure of decency find revolting? ... Even if someone perpetrated extreme wickedness for his whole lifetime, would everlastingtorment be a just punishment? No."
"God is love," she whispered. "How can there be a hell?"
A man leaned forward from the seat behind us. "The truth is, nobody really knows what happens in the next world. All we know for sure is about this world, and I'm glad Osama's out of the way here. He can't do anything more to us now."
The graybeard overheard. "Oh yeah? We have a saying in Puerto Rico: ‘You cut off the head of a snake and two heads grow back.' He's got people all over the world ready to take his place."
"I heard he has a hundred children," the middle-aged lady said in Spanish.
An African woman in a headscarf, cradling a baby on her lap, stared blankly out the window.
"They shoulda just forgot about him," the man in the wheelchair said. "Let the sleeping dog lie. Things was just settling down. The people in Egypt got their revolution without blowing anything up, and they was saying Osama's ideas are stupid and he's a has-been. Now we're on red alert again, that's what I heard. We're back to where we was after 9/11. Before, they just had a man, now they got a saint. Who knows what they'll do now?"
"I don't care," the man behind me said. "We'll get them too. I'm proud to be an American, and I'm glad Obama got him."
"Jerome Avenue," the driver called, pulling up to the stop. Passengers got off and on; the spontaneous social network traveling through the South Bronx changed friends.
"I found a nice apartment in Queens," a woman told her companion. "I'm moving next week. It's closer to my job, and it's more quiet there. Quiet and peaceful."