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Victims of Hate, Now Feeling Forgotten
'I Am the Only One'Since October, Alka Patel, 40, has been working 16-hour days. She struggles to find time to shuttle her elderly parents, who live with her, to their medical appointments, and she is adjusting to the new demands of being a single parent to her 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter -- whose names she asked not be publicized because she still fears vigilante backlash. Her daughter often remains at home with her parents while she works at the gas station counter.
"My daughter always complains, 'Mommy, you're not spending time with us, taking us anywhere. All you do is work,' " she said. "But I am the only one in the family to work, buy groceries, go to the bank. . . . I'm the one."
There have been no offers of free counseling, no college scholarships for the children. She now worries -- alone -- about how she will afford college tuition.
It is an odd situation for the wife of a man once known for his generosity in the neighborhood.
"I've come in here penniless and he would give me a full tank of gas until Friday," said Martin Andrews, who came to the station for years.
It was the same for Warren Acrey. "That man," Acrey said, his voice cracking, "would give you the shirt off his back." He still comes to the station and offers to help when he can.
Lilli Story has been Alka Patel's closest friend throughout the ordeal, sitting beside her at the trial and occasionally assisting with her parents and children.
"I've been disappointed and heartbroken that she's gotten no help from anybody," said Story. "She really has no one else to rely on."
So, every day, Patel is behind the counter, her son and his algebra and English books at her feet.
"Sometimes I wish there was a reset button in life," the boy said, "to fix the problems in life. I could tell people not to go to the towers. And my father would be here."