Hurt, anger and fear in Madrid

Aftermath: People in the Spanish capital must deal with survivor's guilt, defiance and sadness after the bombings.

Madrid Train Bombings

March 13, 2004|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MADRID, Spain - Rosa Gil was nowhere near the blasts that killed and wounded so many people here this week, but she is hurt, and deeply.

Rafael Pacheco Hernandez felt he was in the trains that were ripped apart, so yesterday he demonstrated in the streets. Ana Martinez is suddenly afraid to travel and thinks she always will be.

And Teresa de la Hoz cried tears of grief and now weeps in anger, but she has no idea where to direct it - only that she needs to let it out.

While 2 million people took to the streets of Madrid yesterday in a show of unity, Spaniards are also dealing with the worst attack of its kind in their country's history individually, each person in his own way, with guilt and defiance and longings for peace, with caution and sadness and anger.

More than anything, Gil is dealing with guilt. She was supposed to be aboard one of the trains that was bombed. She is 54 and for years has taken the train from her home in Parla to Atocha station, a major hub, where she then transferred to take a bus to her job in a nursing home.

Thursday, though, she had a doctor's appointment. When the train on which she usually rode blew up, she was not aboard. A friend was.

"She is not good," said Gil, who returned yesterday to the Atocha station to light a candle for the friend, who is hospitalized in serious condition. "People think I should be happy and relieved and feel blessed because I am alive, but I cannot be happy when so many others are hurt and so many people have died. I cannot feel blessed.

"This I can honestly say," she added. "This is the first time in my life I am not happy to be alive. I don't even feel completely alive."

For Gil, her wounds are as permanent as those of the injured. With the death toll from the blasts at least 199 and with more than 400 victims of the attack in the hospital, some with life-threatening injuries, this woman showed that the pain of the attacks goes beyond those aboard the three trains that were bombed, beyond those on the station platforms who were most likely glad to see their trains approaching, only to be ripped apart at their arrival.

"You see," Rafael Pacheco Hernandez said, "we were all on those trains. We were all injured and all killed."

Anti-terrorism rally

Hernandez, 21, is a college student studying the technical aspects of telecommunications. Yesterday, he marched at a noon rally against terrorism, against war, against any form of violence.

This was a smaller march of about 200 people, which took place near Plaza del Sol before the demonstration that brought Madrid to a standstill, a smaller march that in some ways was higher in intensity, with chants against the Spanish government's backing of the war in Iraq, with random shouts of vengeance against the Basque separatists who many blame for the attacks.

"There's not a lot we can do about all that is going on in the world," he said. "At the same time, it's not useless to shout against terrorism in this way. If everybody did all they could do for peace, even if that is just shouting - and maybe listening - couldn't that help?

"My protest is not against the government, not now," Hernandez said. "I would not give the terrorists that satisfaction. My protest is against terrorism and war. My demonstration is for unity - for peace."

The alternative to peace, he said, is not only the violence so graphically displayed here this week. The alternative to peace is also living in fear.

Frequent train rider

"I don't want to get on the train, but I have to," said Ana Martinez, her suitcase packed for a trip to Murcia, to the southeast. "I've been wondering, how can I ever ride the train again without being afraid?"

She is 30 and an economist. Her job puts her on the trains frequently, though she had no scheduled trips when the bombs struck Thursday. But, she knows, that was her good luck. And, she knows, good luck can run out.

"There is no way to defend yourself anymore," Martinez said. "If they want to plant a bomb, they can plant a bomb anywhere at any time. They planted bombs on trains I wasn't on but maybe next time it will be under my seat."

She does not think she will overcome the fear she has, ever. Yesterday, waiting at the Atocha train station, a day after the bombs stuffed in backpacks caused so much damage, she said she now could not help but notice the packages people were carrying, could not stop her eyes from flitting from packages to faces. Is that a bomb? Is that a terrorist?

Traffic in central Madrid has been clogged since the attacks, especially around the Atocha station, the scene of protests and memorials and visits by the curious. So, yesterday, Martinez took the subway to catch her train.

"I think there were four people in my car when usually it would be very crowded," she said. "I looked at all of them, and they all looked normal enough."

But, she said, she was still scared.

"I'm scared, of course, and I'm sad, but I am so angry I don't know what to do," said Teresa de la Hoz, who stood by a makeshift memorial of candles that melted in an afternoon drizzle next to a note that read, "This is not rain. It's angels crying."

"It's not good to be so angry," she said, "but I can't control it."

She does not know whether to be angry at the ETA, the Basque separatist group, or at al-Qaida, which is blamed by many others.

Really, she said, right now she doesn't need to be angry at either because whoever is responsible for killing so many people - babies, children included - is, in a way, irrelevant to her right now.

"I think what I'm mad at is the situation, the violence," Martinez said. "I'm angry that there were so many people killed. That's why I came to this memorial. It sounds silly, but I think I need to be more sad."

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