23 March, 2 pm
My immediate reflex was to buy food. I was not sure how long this “war” was going to be. Fifty meters to the supermarket on the other side of the roundabout. Should I dare? Just before turning the handle of the front door, I got a message from my sister in Australia “store food, batteries, water.” What? Am I really in a war zone? Yesterday, two bombs exploded at the national airport at around 8 a.m., followed one hour later by another in the middle coach of a metro line that I take regularly. In the next minutes, we could only hear the screaming sirens of police cars and ambulances, a tv flash with an agitated anchorwoman in jeans and no make-up, and a radio warning that everybody should stay where they are – at school, in offices, at home.
And then, silence.
The streets were deserted. I finally took hurried steps to the supermarket and promised for the first time, to stick to my list: chicken, fruits, vegetables, smoked fish, butter, coconut milk, eggs…and managed to grab a bag of paprika chips before heading to the cashier. There was no sign of panic-buying. Maybe, it was only me.
Throughout the day, the gravity of these explosions unfolded on tv. “What we always feared would happen, finally happened,” proclaimed the Prime Minister. This is déjà vu. In my dreams the other day, I asked whether airport cleaners can actually plant a bomb in the toilets. Or why was I walking the distance of the metro stops instead of taking a ride these last few days? Premonitions or simply not yet my hour.
And while I was in the safety of my home, innocent people lay dead on Zaventem’s glass-strewn departure hall and on Maalbeek’s blasted metro platform. I liked that metro station. It was renovated with simple, big white tiles with large, black stick drawings of human faces. It was pristine until the terrorists coloured it ash gray and bloody red. Those who “survived” came out of these target locations with burnt hair, open wounds, a missing finger, a missing companion….and deep emotional scars that might never disappear.
I am numb. I have not gone out of my house. I took shelter working in our office at the basement. I have not joined the mourners at the foot of the Stock Exchange building at the city center. I have not shed a tear…until today, when I saw my daughter crying. She just found out that a former schoolmate died in these explosions. I never saw her so affected like this. I can feel her sadness, her anger, her aversion to violence to the point of refusing to watch a youtube video of a puppy left in a canal by a stone-hearted owner.
It could have been her. It could have been me.
How can I comfort her with the untimely death of someone her age, explain to her in non-hatred terms this senseless warfare in the name of religion, guarantee her safety in public places, relieve her this feeling of constantly being exposed to danger, or reassure her that there is still something good in this world? I have no answers. My neighbours have no answers. The Belgian government has no answer. World leaders don’t have the answer. At this moment, nobody has the answer on how to stop this violence. Terrorists are multiplying like gremlins after a rain and have shown to an audience the world over a never-ending horror movie. Despite of our anger, our sadness, our false bravado, we tremble as we witness bloodshed on our streets, in our subways, in our concert halls, in our airports.
Indeed, we are at war. And the enemy is beside us. They are like moss in my garden, stifling the very little grass that would have made it green and pretty. They are watching us, judging us, feeding us, through their acts, the values they try to perpetuate: hate, fear, violence, intolerance, fanaticism, anger. They take advantage of our inattention, of moments when we let go of our defenses.
And just when we thought there is respite, we take a deep breath only for their human bombs to make it our last.
What can I do? I don’t know about tomorrow but today, I spent hours and hours in the kitchen. I grated lemon for almond madeleines, rolled oatmeal and soaked raisins for cookies, pressed oranges for a polenta cake, chopped carrots and zucchinis for a large quiche, diced tomatoes and cucumbers for a lentilles salad, and prepared a full Indian dinner of cardamom rice, curried chickpeas and potatoes, and chicken tikka massala.
At dinnertime, I counted my blessings: roof over my head, my loved ones around the table, food on our plates. With such bounty, my thoughts strayed to those who were stranded and didn’t have a room to stay, whose loved ones have yet to be identified in some hospital morgue, and those whose nourishment in their now shattered lives will be our compassion, sympathy and solidarity. I vow to make that my duty. Perhaps…that is the answer.
I started kneading the bread dough, drowning my sorrow in each movement. They say that your mood and feelings go into whatever you’re cooking. I’m not worried. The room is warm. My dough will rise….long before Easter.