His father says, Son, if you see me crying when we go inside don’t be afraid, you keep moving forward, they’re my own things and they have nothing to do with you, coming here breaks my heart, but today I’m making good on something I’ve been promising you for a long time, Borja, I’m not putting it off any longer. Another March, noon, they said it’s going to rain. We don’t have to go inside if you don’t want to, Dad, what you told me already and just seeing the station from the outside is enough. Red benches, the roof held in place by columns, the clock fixed to one of them. The platform looks as though it has been refurbished. A train headed for Alcalá comes in. People get off, people get on. A woman holds a small dog in her arms. The dog is wearing some kind of sweater. A kid with earphones slides into one of the cars as the doors are closing. Everyone is alive, no doubt about it, they’re walking, breathing, all those things. The train takes off. The train speeds up. The train disappears into the distance. Electric cables overhead, the shine of the rails, clouds. By then the father, I can’t explain what I’m feeling coming back to this place, and the son are alone on the platform. A pigeon pokes around for crumbs to eat, bobbing its head forward and backward as pigeons do. That’s where it happened. The years have passed by like trains. One, then another, another. The boy directs his gaze to the spot where his father’s empty sleeve is pointing. See that red trash can? The pigeon comes and goes beside it. I was thrown somewhere more or less around there, though I don’t remember the trash can, and don’t ask me how I got out of the train because I have no idea, maybe I flew. I felt something really hot on my face as I dragged myself along the ground. It smelled a lot like burned flesh, the heat moved over to my shoulder and then imagine, it started moving downward, I thought it was in my chest but it must have been my arm, and when it seemed to have reached my gut I said to myself you’re fucked, Ramón, with a hole like that you’re done for. The silence and the clouds of smoke, the silence of ruptured eardrums, and at last the people coming to our aid and the people running away on their good legs, with their good eyes and their whole bodies, how fortunate, though some of them were bleeding from their noses. It wasn’t yet eight o´clock in the morning. I raised my head a little like this to see where that heat had gone now that it was turning into a tingling sensation that was growing ever more intense and I couldn’t see any hole, what I did see halfway down my forearm was nothing but shreds of cloth soaked in blood, and I thought of your mother at home and of you too, you were so little, I had left you in your crib, asleep, and how was I going to hug you now if I didn’t have a hand.
A hand was the only thing poking out from underneath the blanket. A well-made hand with the nails painted red and a green trinket of a ring around her finger. The girl was still moving when they laid her on the ground. The Romanian man hardly paid attention to her. He had enough to deal with on his own. He had followed the policeman’s instructions, going on foot with other wounded people to Daoiz y Velarde Sport Center. They asked if he understood Spanish. He answered yes and they told him to go stand by the wall and not to move from there, they would attend to him as soon as possible, do you understand? His legs were bare, skinned raw; he had lost his shoes and was trying to contain the blood gushing from his head with a cloth held tightly against the wound. A few minutes later, two healthcare workers laid the girl about two meters away from him. Her hair hid her face. At first the girl was moving. Her legs. Her back. Just a little bit. A slight tremor. Less and less. Then she stopped. They came to help her. Carefully, they turned her over. Nothing could be done. She was covered with a blanket a little later, leaving one of her hands exposed. A thin hand, pretty, now forever unmoving. The health workers continued on to the next body. The Romanian’s eyelids were closing as he leaned against the wall. He fought to keep them open. They kept closing. They . . . Kep clo . . . K . . . Cl . . . The sudden flare of a cell phone roused him. The Romanian looked around till he found the happy tune some two meters away, under the blanket. He hesitated a moment. The high-pitched, frolicking notes didn’t stop. They weren’t coming from his phone. He had already been in touch with his family about what happened. The melody persisted with pleading insistence amid the chaos of health workers and gravely wounded bodies. He moved over to the blanket, picked up the edge, there was the phone, hanging halfway out the pocket of her charred coat. An older woman’s voice on the other end began uttering words in a language the Romanian didn’t understand. Maybe Polish or Russian. He realized he wasn’t able to make himself understood. The voice grew alarmed and repeated what sounded like a name, the name of the body lying on the ground. Bombs on train. Bombs, lady. Boom. You understand? The Romanian pressed the button to hang up and returned to the place assigned to him by the health workers, next to the wall. Seconds later the girl under the blanket’s phone rang again. The Romanian didn’t move. He had enough with his own issues. The happy jingle continued, sounding for a long time from under the blanket.
The blanket, why hadn’t he thought of it before? He should have grabbed the blanket he kept in the trunk of his car. But they hadn’t given him any time, goddammit, what a great way to start a new shift. A National Policeman had stopped him on Avenida Entrevías. What a God-awful mess. Like a scene from a war zone. Nothing had been announced on the radio yet. He hadn’t heard the explosions but saw the smoke and the people dripping in blood, excuse the graphics, trying to catch the No. 24 bus. It must have been five or ten to eight. I’ll never forget it. He hadn’t meant to gawk, but the wounded who were huddled under the shelter of the bus stop, those ones, by God, those ones he had seen all right. Hold on there, kid, don’t die on me, fuck, not here, just hold on, we’re almost there. They had opened his cab door and pushed him in, hurry up now, closed the door and left him alone with the poor kid, eighteen, twenty years old, laid out there in the back seat, and the policeman said straight to the hospital, Sir. He took off for the 12th of October Clinic. The first ambulances passed by going the opposite direction. For lack of a handkerchief, since his wife didn’t like them, they aren’t hygienic she said and still says, Kleenex is better, it’s disposable, that way you aren’t hauling the boogers around in your pocket, you brute, you men are such brutes, he hung a dust rag out the window, and off he goes honking away so others yield the right of way and let him pass, no stoplights, no bullshit, and the municipal police, who must have already had news of the massacre, signaled him to go even faster. He wasn’t able to see the wounded kid through the rearview mirror. Poor thing didn’t say a word, not a complaint. Stay calm now, we’ll be there in a jiffy, there are good doctors at 12th of October, my wife gave birth to a baby girl there, everything was perfect, clean, well-organized, so just be calm. It was a fib, his wife had given birth in Fuenlabrada Hospital, but what did it matter, all I meant to do was keep the poor kid’s spirits up. The taxi started to smell of something burned. When my boss finds out about this . . . I would be grateful if you didn’t vomit, that’s for sure, but if it can’t be avoided, better on the floor than on the seat, OK? I never stopped talking. Once in a while he would pick up strange clients. Surly types who didn’t say a word the whole way. He’s lived through a few tight spots, especially on the night shift, his wife would tell him he had better be careful, if they try to rob you, just give them everything, don’t even think about resisting. But this was something else. Not single complaint. Moribund. Maybe he was already gone when they loaded him into the cab. I stopped talking as soon as the red hospital building appeared in the distance. He hadn’t stopped talking the whole way. The hospital staff took charge of the wounded kid, the dying kid, the dead kid who smelled of burned flesh, I didn’t want to know. They asked him immediately to make room for other vehicles. Sirens could be heard getting closer and closer. He stopped as soon as he was able. The first thing he did was get his wife out of bed, put on the television, what should I do? Don’t be a coward, call him up, I’m sure he’ll understand. He dialed the number. I swear, I didn’t have time to take the blanket out. There’s a huge blood stain on the back seat. How huge, Vélez? Big enough that nobody can sit there, Boss, impossible. Calm down, Vélez. My wife says you should bring the car to our house, she’ll treat the stain with some cleaning solution. Just calm down, I say. Listen, Sir, no, I’ll pay for the cleaning out of my own pocket, even though it wasn’t my fault. Don’t make the problem worse for me, Vélez, just bring the taxi over here, today is going to be a difficult day for the city.
The city, Saturday morning, seen from the inside of a car, appeared to have recovered a semblance of normalcy. Not a trace of the horrible event. I remember driving around Andalucía Avenue on the way to the southern mortuary, Dad at the wheel. A van driven by two boys stopped beside us at a red light. We could hear their music even though our windows were up. Mom said nowadays a lot of people have hearing problems before the age of thirty. I thought we’ve been left alone to our misfortune, after the deluge of news on the television, in the newspapers and such, people had gone back to their laughter and their private affairs. I guess that’s just life. Even I’ll forget my brother after a while, not entirely, at first I won’t be able to get him out of my thoughts, then he’ll start fading away, just like the commotion of those first hours has already faded from the conversations and memories of the people in Madrid. Grandpa insisted on coming with us. From the hallway he repeated what he had been saying over and over again since Thursday, loudly and clearly so that everyone could hear him from our respective bedrooms: I’ll never forget, I’ll never forgive and I am not going to cry. I won’t give up a single tear to those bastards, I don’t care if they’re ETA, Al Qaeda, or whoever the hell they are. We were all too absorbed in our own sadness to answer him. At one point my dad gave him a pat on the shoulder as if to show that he sympathized and maybe also to insinuate that it was time to stop going on about it. At ten a.m. the entrance to the mortuary was packed. We parked following the orders of the municipal police. Then we checked the monitors in the vestibule looking for my brother’s name, there it was, Mom was the first to see it, and the room where he was laid out. Dad stood in line behind other people dressed in mourning to ask how to get to that room there. Seven or eight people were helping at the counter so they quickly gave him instructions and he came over to us and whispered it’s over there. A lot of hustle and bustle in the hallways. Reddened eyes, people hugging each other, the hum of conversations. A poster announced a free meal service in the basement for family and victims. We couldn’t find my brother’s room. Dad asked a couple of Red Cross volunteers. Very kindly, they brought us there. Meanwhile, Grandpa continued repeating in his typical curmudgeonly tone that he wasn’t going to cry. Not a tear. He said so to the man and woman from the Red Cross: I will not cry. They responded that a team of psychologists was on call just upstairs. I don’t cry, I have my pride, he told them. We saw an Ecuadoran flag on one of the doors and farther down, a Chilean one too. We recognized a lot of people from Latin American countries by their facial features. Also by the delicate and melodious way they have of pronouncing words. A priest came over to shake our hands. Grandpa was about to blurt out his sentence again, but Mom grabbed his arm to restrain him and whispered please. They offered to accompany us to the cemetery. We didn’t want them to. Neither did we go to the basement. We weren’t in the mood to fill our stomachs, although, to be honest, I did feel a pang of hunger and thirst. Back in the car, just out of the parking lot, I heard a strange noise at my side, a sort of moaning, a long sounding of the letter “u,” uuuu, that at first I thought might have been one of us trying to imitate the sound of the wind in a scary movie, and when I looked behind me, I saw Grandpa’s face afflicted and contorted in pain. He broke out crying disconsolately and in a trembling voice screamed murderers, murderers, cussing and saying he no longer believed in God. His sobs spread to all of us even though by now we were more serene and resigned than the first day. It got so bad that Dad had to pull the car over since he couldn’t see the road through his tears. We couldn’t speak for at least five minutes.
Five minutes before train 21431 arrived in Atocha station a girl dressed in a black parka and another in a green wool jacket happened to be there at the same time. It’s a little past seven-thirty in the morning. Thursday. Both are on their way to work. The one in green freshens her lipstick, scrutinizing herself in a small mirror she’s taken from her purse. The one in black hurries through the last few pages of a Pérez Reverte novel. The one who is reading lives in Getafe; the one who wears lipstick, in Parla. The one from Getafe has Andean features, the one from Parla, Mediterranean. They’re part of the flood of students and workers who transfer between commuter trains in Atocha early in the morning. They’re accustomed to seeing each other, but they never say hello. They take the train that comes from Alcalá de Henares to Alcobendas every working day. Then at the Nuevos Ministerios stop, one of them heads for the subway while the other goes up to the street, and they lose sight of each other until the next day, unless they happened to have gotten on different cars, in which case they would have lost sight of one another earlier on, in Atocha, if they had ever seen each other at all, which doesn’t always happen. It’s the eleventh day of March. It’s chilly and gray, almost cold. As yet a normal day. Two kids run down the escalator as if they were afraid of missing the train that hadn’t yet arrived. Maybe they’re joking around and racing. An urban mouse scurries around a blackened ballast. The train from Alcalá conceals the busy mouse as it makes its entry into the station, stops at the usual track and opens its doors. People get off. People get on. The girl from Getafe has a finger stuck in the Pérez Reverte novel to keep the page she was reading. The one from Parla gets on behind her and sits down nearby. They don’t speak. They’ve already exchanged glances once, so they don’t do it again. As they await the beep-beep-beep announcing that the doors are closing, they are suddenly overwhelmed by a colossal explosion which jolts the car violently. The light goes out. The girl in green steps out of the train. To her right, almost at the end of the long string of cars, she sees billowing columns of smoke. The voice of a passenger behind her asks if there’s been a collision. Seconds later, the girl in black steps onto the platform. Muted screams can be heard. Some silhouettes rushing around crouch beside bodies that are blown to pieces, scattered around the ground. The girl in black says Holy Mother of God as she pulls a cell phone out of her pocket. The one in green doesn’t say a thing. Instead, she runs toward the escalator, where at that moment there are others on the way up who aren’t in a rush. Just as she’s about to reach the upper deck, she glances back at the platform. Smoke is still pouring out of one of the cars at the tail end. She can just make out in the distance what appears to be someone dragging themselves along the ground. In the midst of it all, she happens to come across the girl in black approaching the escalator below with her book in her hand. One is on the upper deck, the other on the lower deck, their eyes meet for less than a second before a huge explosion behind the girl in black launches a blast of flames against the platform and a dense cloud of swirling smoke and splinters engulfs a large number of people. The girl in green has just enough time to verify that the girl in black is about to reach the bottom of the escalator. Hardly has she turned around to continue making her way to the exit when she hears another explosion, this time very nearby. Dazed, she falls to the ground. A young man coming from behind falls on top of her before a cloud of smoke and dust overtakes them both. Coughing, eyes irritated, she makes it to the street and walks around as if she was lost. She walks up Paseo del Prado not daring to look back, and stops a taxi. In the office, everyone already knows what’s going on. Her colleagues see how listless she is. They ask her boss to let her go home. The boss accedes. But she says she isn’t leaving, she’s afraid to leave, she has work to get done. A colleague drives her home to Parla later in the morning. Days come, days go, one afternoon she comes across the photos of the victims on the Internet. She studies the rows of faces looking for the Andean features of the girl she used to see on the train in the mornings. Curious, she wonders what her name was. Yet despite carefully perusing the nearly two hundred photos, she can’t locate her. She views numerous female faces. Women of a certain age, young women, adolescents. But the photo of the woman she’s looking for isn’t there. She’s relieved. Her boyfriend comes in. He asks what she’s doing. She answers I could have been with these poor people. Her face reveals sadness. Why do you say that? I could have helped, but instead I left. Her boyfriend consoles her. For the next few weeks she takes a different route to work. It’s a more complicated way, but it allows her to avoid confronting the place of her nightmares. She holds out through the end of March, but how to avoid it, she goes back to her usual morning routine, changing trains in Atocha station. One day in early summer, a little after seven-thirty in the morning, she awaits the train for Alcala, engrossed in watching a little mouse running along the tracks. Suddenly and for no reason she turns her head and sees her again, dressed in light clothing, it was a hot day after all. A little closer now, she glimpses a scar running from ear to neck forming a noticeable, rose-colored swirl around her cheek. The girl from Getafe walks straight up to her. She stops about a half-meter away. They look at each other for a few seconds, both very serious. Suddenly, without saying a word, they lock in an embrace in the center of the platform. A hug they repeat every morning.
Every morning Lorenzo carries out the same ritual when he wakes up. He looks over from his bed at the square of sky visible through his window and says today is a new day for me and I’m going to enjoy it. He whispers both sentences as if they were a childhood prayer. He hasn’t skipped a day in the past four months, Monday through Sunday. It started a few days after the morning some men tried to kill him and others saved him. Thanks to the latter he feels reconciled with life: also, somehow, with human beings. With one of them in particular who’s been in his thoughts every waking hour. He tried to locate him for weeks following his release from the hospital, trying to find out who he is, to be able to thank him, to embrace him and see if he could ever repay the huge favor he had done him in saving his life. Yesterday, he finally had the enormous pleasure of receiving his phone call and they arranged to meet up in a modest tavern on Albufera Avenue. Lorenzo had placed a number of advertisements in the newspaper, paying for them out of his own pocket. In them, he succinctly explained his case. Obsessed over trying to find the man, it took him weeks to finally fulfill his wish. He had appeared on a Telemadrid program, to no avail. Finally, he had been invited to a radio show where he explained his experience as a victim of the attack yet another time and gave his phone number, enunciating the digits carefully so he would be understood correctly. His tenacity (stubbornness, according to his mother) paid off. Lorenzo’s case is similar to those of many others. Given the circumstances, Son, you were very lucky. Lorenzo doesn’t like the word lucky, though he realizes that his mother does have a point and so he doesn’t contradict her. He was riding the train that’s now known as the Tellez Street train. He dislikes the designation. Trains don’t go down streets. His mother lets him voice his opinion or else she says Son, you were less contentious before. I’m not being contentious, and then he reiterates his intention of never looking back, of accepting life as it is and enjoying it if it allows. That’s much better, Lorenzo, but try not to forget it in five minutes. He was lying among the rubble of the train, aware that he was bleeding to death, unable to get up. That’s when the man appeared from out of the smoke, his clothes in shreds. He spoke broken Spanish and it was hard to understand him. Others ran, but he stayed, and pulled the shirt from his body and tied it around Lorenzo’s thigh, a little above his knee. That was the last Lorenzo knew before gaining consciousness again the next day in a hospital bed at Gregorio Maranon. A doctor told him that without the tourniquet they would have had to amputate his leg and another told him that whoever had applied first aid had saved his life. He returned from the tavern on Albufera Avenue smiling. It wasn’t him, he said to his mother. What do you mean it wasn’t him? This one’s a young Polish man who speaks passable Spanish, who was in the train and helped a number of wounded passengers. One of his neighbors told him that I was looking for him, and gave him our phone number so he could call and we met up, but he isn’t the person who helped me, that person is a little older than him. So what did you do? What could I do? I hugged him so hard I nearly broke his ribs. And the chocolates? I hope he likes them. You said good-bye and that’s it? His name is Ludoslaw, he had to write it out on a napkin, he’s been in Spain for eight months, he doesn’t remember how many people he helped before the emergency workers came, and tomorrow morning I’m going to call Ruano. I want him to help with the visa documents for two of his sons who still live in Poland. Did you tell him the truth? What truth? What truth do you think I mean, that he isn’t the person who helped you. I preferred to make a friend. After all, who can say that it’s not me who’s mistaken. Maybe I am.
I am not sure there’s a way that we can fix that man. He’s not the same as before and he isn’t going to change. The priest came over to try and convince him that God exists. He shook his head in denial without letting go of the shotgun, right there, in the kitchen. Of course He exists, even now at this time He’s inside of you. Well he better come on out of there so I can fill him with holes like he deserves. Holy Mother of God, how can anyone talk like that to a priest? Later he went out to shoot in the corral, like he’s been doing every afternoon since we got back from Madrid. The neighbors sympathize with him. The first day they called the Civil Guard, but now there’s no reason for it. He’s being consumed by a white rage. But I know, because I sleep with him, that he cries under the sheets at night. He sort of twitches a little in the darkness. That’s when I know he’s crying and I don’t say anything. We don’t speak about that Thursday the 11th. My sister-in-law came over one day and the three of us stayed at home without opening our lips. She’s aware of the favor she owes us. Because it was my husband and I who went to Pavilion 6 of the Convention Center in Madrid to identify what was left of my nephew inside a body bag. Her brother told her You’re not going there. But it’s my son. Yes he is, but you’re not going. On our way to Madrid we were worried that something bad could have happened, but not the worst, not that. The boy was hurt, sure, since every morning in Guadalajara he would get on one of the trains that blew up. My sister-in-law didn’t stop calling his cell phone and he never picked up. At first she called constantly, one call following the next, then every half hour. There was no trace of the boy. So the three of us took off for Madrid in our car and we spent the day going from one hospital to another. None of them could tell us anything. They sent us here, they sent us there. Around eight in the evening we found out that they had been taking cadavers to the Convention Center for identification. We told my sister-in-law, whose nerves were already shot, You aren’t coming, if God has taken him we’ll let you know but it’s better you don’t see him because it’s going to be tough. And when I say tough, my husband told her, I know what I’m talking about, go home now, for Christ’s sake, don’t make me say things twice. We went together, him and me, since I’m like his shadow. We were waiting over two hours. My hands shook. They let us go ahead of others since we came in from outside the city. We were left alone with some psychologists. I mean, we couldn’t go in just like that where the dead were, that’s something I can understand, we had to prepare ourselves. Those poor psychologists. Every time I think back... One of them was very young, his eyes were red. Go ahead and cry, don’t hold it back, I told him, anyway, one tear more or one tear less isn’t going to change anything. My husband didn’t stop asking if the boy’s name and surname was on any one of the victim lists. Distraught, so distraught though without screaming like we heard others scream when we got there. They explained what we were going to see, that it wasn’t going to be pleasant and all that, and to make matters worse my nephew didn’t have identification, I don’t know, he must have lost his ID in the explosion, so there wasn’t anything we could do but have a look at some photographs, how gruesome, if you recognize him let us know, mangled flesh, mangled flesh, more mangled flesh and more, me praying to myself and feeling like asking for copies of all the photos to send them to the mothers of the people who had done all of that. Eventually, that could be him, I said, are you sure, my nephew wore a ring in his ear like that, yeah that’s right, Christ, my husband laughed at him about a month ago are you a faggot or what, but he loved him so much, he was more than a nephew to us, he was like the son that God hadn’t given to us. It was unfortunate, had they been able to identify him by his ID card we might have been spared from looking in the bag. We still had a long wait. I guess the stricken weren’t supposed to see each other. So as not to deepen the grief or something like that. And there he was packaged like a heap of misery, with a tag where CT and a number were written, a bag with a few belongings, and yes, it was him, at least the head was his, the rest who could possibly say. We walked out in silence, others sobbed, we didn’t. We went back to the village and my husband hasn’t been the same ever since then. At times he just stares blankly at nothing for a long time, without blinking, and it scares even me. Every afternoon he goes out to the corral with a shotgun, a shot here, a shot there. Yesterday I came across the shotgun leaning against the wall in the hallway so I picked it up and I don’t know what I was thinking, maybe I wanted to imagine what he was feeling, I made my way through the hens and shot a round against the garden wall. In the kitchen he asked me how many I had killed. I stood there looking at him and it came to me. Got two of them, I said, keeping up with the gag. Along with the three I killed myself that makes five, not bad at all for today.
Today he arrived at the station more tired than usual. He had stayed up late last night watching television. He was curious to know who would win The Jungle of the Famous, a program he abhorred, but if he didn’t watch it he would be left out of the conversations with his colleagues at work. The bullfighter won, goddamnit, instead of the water polo player who he preferred. Then he listened to the commentaries on the Madrid–Bayern Munich match. They hadn’t played well, Roberto Carlos’s absence was evident, Zidane made the winning goal, his eyelids closed and he went to bed for the last time in his life. But how could he have known that. He bought a copy of Marca at the usual time in Alcala station. He checked his watch. There’s still time for his first cigarette of the day. He had better enjoy it because there won’t be another. An acquaintance greets him. Hey, you said you were quitting! The last one, he answers sarcastically, unaware of the fact that it’s the truth. And he goes on reading the sports newspaper in the third car of train 21435. Some days he gets on the first car, or the fifth, upstairs or downstairs, it doesn’t really matter, but today he made the worst choice of his life. Along some stretches the tracks aren’t laid straight and so the passengers’ heads sway softly. There are familiar faces, a lot of Latin Americans and students. He folds his copy of Marca intending to read it on his way home, he sure would like that, he doesn’t know what’s in store for him, where? He’ll know soon enough. He sets the newspaper on his lap as he leans back to catch a little snooze. A quick glance out the window before his eyelids close gives the impression that it’s the landscape that is going by at full speed while the train is standing still. He meets the smile of the girl sitting next to him. Can I? She points her finger at his masculine attributes. Amusing mistake. She means the newspaper. Sure, go ahead. He leans back, eager to please her like a man smitten by feminine beauty, to the point of trying to imitate her smile, though his teeth aren’t as white nor his lips as plump. Just before Vicalvaro, a young man with black curls who is sitting a few seats away gets up and stands in front of the door. The train comes to a halt with the usual squeaking, or maybe not, what does it matter. People get off, people get on. More people get on than off. The same thing happens after a while at the Santa Eugenia stop. If they knew what is about to happen in a few minutes, at 7:38, in El Pozo, they would all jump off and run. But it’s already too late, the doors have closed, the landscape has already begun moving again and the passengers let their heads bob in the usual way, stimulating a collective drowsiness at the tender hour of sunrise. Those who just got off in Vilcalvaro or in Santa Eugenia will lay themselves to rest at night in their warm beds and in the morning, which will be rainy, they’ll be able to leave their homes complaining about how bad the weather is. Only a few of those who are still in the third car of train 21435 will see the clouds. Speaking of Vicalvaro, the girl who had asked him for his Marca suddenly says oh dear, that young man forgot his backpack, she points to it under the seat that is now occupied by another lady, oh yeah, you’re right. With her twenty-something woman’s hand she taps lightly on the glass to get the attention of the boy with the black curls, down on the platform, who turns around with a quick feline movement of his neck, as if expecting the call, his black, penetrating eyes, his gripped or worried eyebrows, who knows what he would be thinking. He looks the other way immediately, moving toward the platform’s exit close behind another boy who has made some sort of urgent signal with his head. The poor kid left without his backpack, what a shame, she says. How scatterbrained, he adds, how can anyone forget a bag that size. Well, we’re all half-asleep at this time of the morning, she tries to justify the stranger, when the ticket collector comes we’ll let him know about it, they’ll get it back to him. If some shyster doesn’t get it beforehand he responds, it’s not like the world is at a loss for bad people.
People fallen on the tracks. People who exited a train stopped near ours and hurried over to help us. People who lived in the surrounding areas, with bottles of water, rags (or towels, I don’t know), and utensils from a first-aid kit. People who threw blankets from their windows. People who called the police on their cell phones, the civil protection associations, the fire department. This is the first image that comes to mind of the minutes after the explosion. The people I glimpsed when I could raise my head a little, using all my strength. People as unfortunate as me, and even more than me, when all is said and done I’m alive and able to tell the tale, and there was that other person who came to our aid out of compassion, solidarity and goodwill. The explosion had sent me flying through the air. I fell next to the tracks. I couldn’t get up. When I began to realize what had happened I couldn’t feel a thing, honestly, no pain. I went so far as to think you’re dead, don’t get your hopes up, you’re observing it all from the other side. I didn’t doubt for a second that we were the victims of a terror attack. I touched my face and also my teeth and I grabbed a stone to see if I still belonged to reality. I remember saying in my mind don’t worry, Mother, I’m alive. I had lost a shoe and a sock. There were only a few shreds left of my pants. My legs were exposed, covered in wounds, as if they had been shot with an automatic weapon, and there was a gash on my knee where the tip of a bone stuck out. My head was bleeding heavily. I didn’t notice my broken ankle until they told me about it at the Daoiz and Velarde Sport Center where I was given first aid before being put in an ambulance. And then all those poor people scattered around the ground. And the weeping. And the cries for help that got weaker and weaker. And those who didn’t move. Dead. Maybe. Surely. That woman lying next to me. She whispered in a pitiful voice help me, help me, which is how I realized I couldn’t get up. I was able to drag myself about a half a meter closer to her by leaning on my elbows. I was close enough to grab her hand. A slight, warm hand. I saw people running away suddenly and thank goodness because another detonation broke through the air. I couldn’t move. I had the feeling that I had melted into the earth from the waist down. I couldn’t see the woman anymore. Help me. My blood filled my eyes. For a while I could hear her sobs, her pleas, feel her hand in my fingers. Every once in a while I squeezed a little. She did the same thing. It was a way of communicating though we never said a word except to confirm to each other that we were still there, that we hadn’t perished. It was difficult for me to speak to her, dryness had taken over my mouth and it felt as though my throat were full of hot sand. She didn’t answer. I squeezed her hand. She didn’t react. I squeezed again. I could tell she didn’t have strength left. It was harder and harder for me to maintain my posture. Suddenly I felt a pain in my chest that made it extremely difficult to breathe. I think I was swallowing my own blood. I separated my fingers. The woman’s hand slipped away. I tried to hold on to it. I couldn’t.
I couldn't go downstairs, I’m so sorry, I recalled the accident, I had just about opened the front door but I just couldn’t do it. The first explosion woke him up. The shock wave shattered the glass of his bedroom windows. Be careful when you stand up Salome said, don’t walk around barefoot. What was that? Another explosion went off in the street below and the house trembled, and then another and it trembled again. I think something tragic is going on down there, she said, already dressed to run off to the newsroom at the paper where she works, but I don’t want to look myself, can you come over here please? They looked out the kitchen window, he in pajamas and slippers, and she, a journalist to the core, holding a camera. She took a number of photos of the train stopped on the tracks closest to the street. The shattered cars revived in him the memory of the images of his traffic accident in January, the twisted steel, the feeling of impotence, the blood and all that, why go into it any farther. Obviously that was an accident and this was intentional. People vacated the train, some through the windows. They wandered around, blood and screams, among fallen bodies, not a few of them unmoving, and regardless there were those who stopped and crouched over to hold the head of someone gravely wounded. Others ran or walked aimlessly, wobbly-legged, scared, stunned. Salome held on to his arm and he said, just to say something, to not stay silent, because the sound of the sirens was making him nervous, we’ll have to sweep up the glass. He made out the figure of a man with a bloody face, lying on the ground in the swath of land that separated the train tracks from the houses. He recoiled a step as if pushed back violently by the memory of his father lying on that frozen road in Segovia. Neighbors’ voices could be heard from windows of the building on the floor above and the floors below, offering help and exchanging short, quick sentences with the survivors. The first one out, a boy who lived on the ground floor on the right hand side, crossed below the fence where there was a hole. He ran holding a stack of blankets in his arms. The people who live on the second floor came behind him with bottles of water and a first-aid kit. In the meantime, they rang the doorbell. He heard Salome from the kitchen talking with someone who seemed very upset. He overheard their conversation from the kitchen, though now he stood away from the window, there was a background of confused voices and hurried steps in the building’s stairway. Get dressed, we need to help those poor people. They arranged to bring blankets to keep the wounded people warm, and the first-aid kit, and don’t forget the cell phone because some people won’t have one or will have lost them and grab whatever else you think will be useful, sweetheart, I’m taking off, I’ll wait for you downstairs, hurry up. He couldn’t. He did get dressed quickly. But he just couldn’t. I’m a coward. He walked into the bathroom. What’s Salome going to say? What kind of a man is she with? Have you no heart? He caught sight of his face in the mirror and broke into tears. He shook violently and felt a sharp pang of anxiety overwhelm him slowly but surely, finally taking his breath away. He stopped just in front of the door, panicked, his heart pounding. He reached the doorknob with his hand but he wasn’t able to turn it. He squeezed it for a long time. The ambulance and fire truck sirens resounded throughout the house. He stood fixed in place, staring at the furry back of his hand as if he had never seen it before, that was already transmitting heat to the doorknob. Suddenly, he saw once again the sheets of ice covering the asphalt, the curve that he took too quickly, his father had warned him, be careful Guzman, it was the last thing he said. He would have liked to erase the memory, to expel it from his thoughts like someone who vomits a toxic substance, but he couldn’t, he simply couldn’t, and once again the scene that had been torturing him for two months ran through complete in his head: the truck, the broken glass, the insupportable certainty that the man lying at the side of the road, covered by a blanket, was his father.
"Carne Rota" © Fernando Aramburu. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2013 by Valerie Miles. All rights reserved.