As long as it doesn’t happen again, says a friend.
It is June, 2006. GCSE exam results time, and the last foreign holiday I have had to date. My mother, sister, and I, four years before the small print of the divorce was through and we all moved elsewhere. My memories from the day after the bombing is only patchy; heavily edited and bleached shots from the airport, and Moira Stewart.
My fingers dart across the news-stories of the time with a sense of unusual calm, almost disinterest. Following the attacks on the World Trade Center any reports of attacks featuring British tourists would be spread across four or more pages with endless analysis on television. In 1996 there was a matter of 24-hour news but far less erratic or hyperactive than now. Going home to catch the one news programme was one of the things on our mind as we made the way from Manchester Airport. A form of presspack had formed outside the entrance but some set-up had ensured those passengers who had travelled back could exit without being caught by camera lenses.
My sister was eating a packet of M&Ms. She finished the packet and looked across at a bin. Looking back through the constant repetitions of this anecdote I guess it would have made sense for me to explain the reasoning behind taking the packet and putting it in my pocket. I could have pretended to have seen a prediction or heard voices or something, either then or now, but nothing of the sort ever came to mind. A natural act against putting an empty packet into a bin already overflowing with rubbish: bottles, packets and bags, all flowing out of it onto the floor. Why else would I suggest not walking over?
The contemporary newspaper reports, so easily found by Google, have clearly been written from the same press release, so there is no emotion nor any celebration of the perpetrators. The bombers were ETA, the timing so perfect and clinical that only British tourists were targeted, the result was carnage. All the press reports are without named suspects, no blanked out photographs, no harrowing quotes from reels of injured. So unlike today. Do we build tributes to terrorists with our constant story telling?
The bomb was placed in the bin. The cleaning lady saw that a pile of rubbish had collected around the bin, but instead of clearing the problem she pushed the rubbish into the bin, which had caused the explosion. Or so I believe. In the reports she is described as being “seriously injured”. We all found out what happened as we camped out in the scrub land around the airport. She had lost at least one leg, maybe both.
I cannot remember what came first. The explosion or the rumbling thunderous shaking or the noise of the explosion or the panic in the crowd. I recall my mum pushing me really hard, and the crowd of people jumping over whatever came in their way; chairs, seats, other people falling. I turned to see my mum’s face framed by….was it smoke? Dust? Or just the static of panic surrounding my vision?
Reus Airport was the overspill airport for Barcelona, and perfectly designed for an attack. Passengers in and passengers out. Crowds of tourists. ETA had designs on destruction. My memory has faded a little, so its reawakening is a little strange, and unexpected. I don’t understand it. Therapy of some kind? Maybe. Some form of brain exercise. We sat down in the scrub land surrounding the airport. I cried a little. TV crews from TVE appeared to be upset that I was the only one crying, I think they wanted more than that. Demanded it, I seem to recall. Less V-signs, I know that.
There was a bomb at the airport, I said on the phone. My gran stopped for a bit, she exhaled. I feel a bit funny now you’ve said that.
Nowadays I could claim compensation. Perhaps. Sell my story. I was only sixteen. My memories are fading. Mrs MacDuff, my Head of Year, handing me my exam results said something about not being happy had I died. When I saw the photograph she had taken with me and my certificates, my eyes were closed.