The flags outside the European Council building in Brussels fly at half-mast mourning the 31 killed and hundreds injured in the devastating bombings that befell on Tuesday 22 March. Twin blasts occurred around 8:00 AM (GMT+1) at Zaventem airport, Belgium’s principal air hub located on the outskirts of Brussels. An hour later a bomb was detonated in Maalbeek metro station in the city centre in close proximity to EU and other government offices.
Brussels is my home town. I am not a Belgian national but I was born and raised in Brussels. It is where I returned during the seemingly endless college summers and winters, it is where I live now, it is a city I will always come back to. When I heard about the attacks, I was in the house that I grew up in, surrounded by what is most familiar to me. I went downstairs and switched on the television.
Since the Paris attacks of last November, I feared that it would only be a matter of time before some act of extreme violence occurred in Brussels. It is a city that amalgamates people from a vast range of different cultures and backgrounds. While this often results in a unique and exciting atmosphere, sometimes it leads to rapid radicalisation and the marginalisation of certain individuals.
I remember attending classes given by a professor who had lived through the Northern Irish Troubles. He spoke of the literature that emerged in those fraught times and described the way in which he became fixated with news bulletins, how they developed into an addiction of sorts. I have felt this way over the past days. I am glued to various screens and the Twitter feed of local media organisations. I am desperate to know more, while being simultaneously sickened by the situation.
In the minutes after finding out about the attacks, after I had cried in rage and dismay, I attempted to contact my parents who work in the area around the Maalbeek metro station. I couldn’t get through because of the traffic on the phone networks. Eventually I received a message from my mother to tell me she was fine but had not heard from my father. I was nervous, but finally got news that he was well. It later transpired that he had exited Maalbeek metro station on his way to work ten minutes before the bomb went off. He never takes public transport in the mornings and did so on Tuesday only in order not to be late for a meeting.
Although my loved ones are safe and I am grateful for this, I cannot experience complete relief because many others have been less fortunate. I am disturbed that such atrocities continue to befall in this day and age. I am miserable that I only feel their full impact now that my home town has fallen victim, the place where, in my eyes, “the spirit meets the bone”, as Lucinda Williams so beautifully puts it. We live in strange times. Death can occur at any moment and seems so completely random. The phoenix rising from the ashes, however, is the solidarity that people have so courageously shown, in Brussels’s Place de la Bourse (pictured above) and further afield.
I hear fewer sirens in the distance now. Tragedies befall and we must continue, the way the sun keeps on rising and setting.