I hate how the media zooms in on one spot and blurs out the bigger picture but today I will write of the Brussels attacks because it hit too close to home.
I was in that very airport, walking around that very departure hall just a few hours before the explosion. A lot of people who weren’t supposed to be there were there because of the air traffic control strike in France. We were lucky (on hindsight) that our flight had not been cancelled and simply hours delayed.
We left Brussels Zaventem at 1am. The airport bombing happened just after 8am.
We flew to Brussels last Saturday and got our first sign of how serious things were when we got to the Central station. There were armed guards everywhere and a man mopping a red stain off the floor tiles. We both thought it was blood until we saw these tiny red dots arranged in a circle all around. A protest? No idea. We were ignorant tourists.
There were soldiers everywhere in Brussels over the weekend, thick concentrations of them.We knew about the Brussels lockdown, I read about the arrest of Salah Abdeslam just the day before we got there, but we weren’t aware just how seriously the terrorism threat was.
I remember on the first hour we got there, I saw on a tourist info window “Yellow level alert” and asked my clueless companion what that meant.
We got back to our place in Berlin at 3:30am and just dropped dead from exhaustion. Our friends woke us up with news of what had just happened. I couldn’t say anything. My heart dropped. We didn’t talk to each other. There is no describing that exact moment you think it could have been you. I was just there.
Why did they wait until Tuesday morning?
We had both in half-jest concluded we were done with Belgium after our embarrassing pig out and the misfortune of a delayed return flight. I remember jokingly saying “Let’s kiss the German ground,” while getting off the plane.
That grey Tuesday morning I will always remember for the silence that was both calming and disconcerting.
We sat down to our typical breakfast of muesli. We were both at loss for words. Over breakfast, we browsed through the images that were beginning to surface. That’s when I felt the weight of it all— that queer feeling of having narrowly escaped an awful fate yet knowing things like these could happen anywhere at any given time.
Senseless deaths. Senseless killings.