A Saturday morning at Barajas
Just about 9 am, while I was carrying two trays to the screening machines at Terminal 4 in Madrid's Barajas Airport, an ETA car bomb blew up the parking structure across from the terminal. I heard the explosion, then watched the check-in area on the other side of a glass wall shake for what seemed like 2 or 3 minutes. Airport guards raced by while a Guardia Civil told us to keep calm. People looked blankly at him, seeking answers; we looked hard at each other. Some people shouted "¡Por dios!" or "¡Joder!"; others simply broke into tears.
A young couple trying to run past the guards into the terminal began to shout when he ordered them to stay where they were. The woman in front of me began to cry. Sobbing quietly, she turned to look in my eyes, not saying anything, just lingering with me for awhile as if to confirm that we were in this together and not nearly as "strange" to each other as we'd been 2 minutes earlier. Smoke began to fill up the check-in area on the other side of the wall.
The security folks closed down the security line, then immediately reopened it. They rushed us through, encouraging us to travel as quickly as possible to the underground train that would take us to our gates. As I passed through security I watched guards try to calm an older women who was shouting angrily. She was desperate for the guards to assure her she'd be all right and furious that someone had managed to get a bomb into the airport.
Walking toward the escalators I passed glass exit doors leading from the smoke-filled check-in area. I heard shouts and watched a group of young men force their way through the locked exit doors into the main terminal, panicked and eager to escape the smoke. On the landing between escalators I walked by one of the Barajas employees posted to help customers find their way through the new terminal. These Barajas guides are usually cheerful and multilingual. Saturday, the guide was standing up straight at her position, tears streaming down her cheeks. She was scared to death, but still on duty.
On the train to the U gates a young Frenchman headed back to Paris told us the bomb had exploded outside the airport building. People speculated that we could be caught up in payback for Saddam's hanging, then moved toward an ETA theory as we counted our fingers and toes and realized perhaps this had been a bomb meant to create chaos and fear without killing any of us.
I spent the rest of the day waiting. Terminal 4 was closed until 2 or 230, and the train I'd arrived in was taken out of service until engineers could check its structural stability. Slowly, those of us who had made it immediately through security were joined by passengers bussed from the other terminals.
My 12pm flight to Chicago left Madrid a little after 430. I arrived at O'Hare 18 hours after catching the airport shuttle at my hotel in Madrid.
The bombing broke a ceasefire which had made me quite hopeful when it was first announced 9 months ago. Last I heard, Madrid police were still searching for two Ecuadorian immigrants believed to be buried beneath the rubble of the parking garage. Each had stayed behind in his car to sleep while his companion went into the airport to meet an arriving visitor. If confirmed dead, they will be ETA's first mortal victims in the three years I have lived in Spain.
I have friends, people I respect, who routinely argue that desperate people will "understandedly" take desperate means to get what they want, be they members of Hamas, or Hezbollah, or ETA or as many of my friends would add, the Israeli government. I now know that the collections taken up in Boston Irish-American pubs when I was young likely wound up in the hands of the IRA.
I don't see any signs anyone in the Basque Country suffers as Palestinians do. That aside, seeing senseless violence as closely as I did Saturday has only strengthened my conviction that nothing justifies violence against civilians. What good can possibly come from the needless deaths of two sleeping immigrants? More importantly, I still can't see any way violence can ever work -- ever get anyone, oppressed or not, what they are after. The day made me think of this old post, about Jo Berry, who met and now speaks alongside the IRA man who killed her father.
I have to tell you. As pleased as I was to be rushed onto a train after the bomb exploded and as thrilled as I was when my flight finally took off 7 hours later, I am sorry I missed the demonstrations after the bombing.
I feel a bit more Spanish. I met ETA Saturday morning.