After a week of travelling, I was happy to be back to Brussels early on Saturday morning. Just the right time to have a relaxing weekend full of jazz. The annual Brussels Jazz Marathon had started the previous night and I was very much looking forward to it. Besides it was the day of the Bulgarian culture and the Slavonic alphabet, created by the brothers St. st. Cyril and Methodius. And the previous day the news that my novel Annabel had got a distinction in a Bulgarian-US competition had arrived. I had enough reasons to feel good and celebrate life.
One of the marathon stages was at Sablon, just behind the corner. But the space behind the corner was blocked with police. I saw a camera and a journalist interviewing a man. An ambulance arrived. Probably a car accident, I thought. But there were no other cars around apart the ones of the police. I went to the square and sat at a table, next to an older couple. It was Yoonmi Choi Trio & Sergej Avanesov (Corea/Usa/Ru) playing. Relaxing and melodic jazz. People were having beers and sandwiches from the caravans installed especially for the event. It all felt nice and peaceful. The concert was over and there was a 20 min break as the next band, Frank Deruytter Quartet, was preparing. Then they started. It was maybe in the middle of their second piece when a man came on the stage and the music stopped. The man took the microphone and announced that there had been a terrorist attack at the Jewish museum, 50 metres away from my home. Three people were killed, one seriously injured. All the concerts at Sablon were being cancelled in the memory of the victims. The woman at my table covered her face with hands and started crying.
I felt dizzy. It was surreal if only it was not so real with all the policemen and journalists with cameras, who have arrived meanwhile.
Joëlle Milquet, the Interior Minister, was saying that a man had entered the museum and had opened fire. Two women and a man were shot death, one seriously injured. Then he had run away, jumped into an Audi and disappeared.
My Polish friend called me to check plans about the marathon. “ I don’t feel comfortable about going out in this situation”, she said when she heard, “I would advise you to stay home and keep it quite tonight too”. My Colombian friend was waiting in front of my door. She had heard the news on the radio. “We have to continue living”, she said, “There is nothing we can do”.
After a while we took the direction of Grand Place. Sablon was still blocked at the time with the police and the journalists doing their reportages.
One street below at the skate ground loud music was on. There were plenty of young people with their skate boards, roller skates or bikes. It reminded me my skater’s years when I was flying on my board. Such freedom and joy…
Grand Place was full of people seating on chairs or standing around. Same huts as the ones at Sablon were offering beer, sandwiches, waffles with strawberries. A very gentle trumpet was filling the air. I couldn’t stop having this surreal feeling.
The concert was over and we went to Music Village, one of the best jazz clubs in Brussels. It was crowded. Not only all the tables were taken but also there were people standing everywhere. The concert had started. It was The Swingmasters & Elaine Mc Keown presenting The Great American Songbook. They were doing great both in terms of quality and performance. Elaine Mc Kewon joined them and her voice was lovely – soft and caressing.
In the break we went back to Grand Place to see what was on there. It was Zule Max performing latino music. The atmosphere was cheerful. And then I saw this woman wearing a cartoon label, saying Free Hugs, on her neck. Years ago when I found the Free Hugs campaign videos on you tube, I was very much taken by the idea. I even wanted to organise it in Sofia but never tried. And there she was – already giving me a free hug. It had a lot deeper meaning to me in the light of what has just happened.
“I always wanted to do this”, I told her. “Then do it”, she said and before I realise, the label was already hanging on my neck. I opened my hands widely and gave my first “free hug” to a stranger. It felt warm. And consoling. I hugged a few more people. Not everyone was open to share an embrace. But many were.
We returned to Music Village and listened to the remaining sets. It was a truly amazing concert. The audience gave the musicians big applause. It was after midnight when it was over.
We passed by the bars at and around Saint Gerry but most of the jazz concerts had finished. There were DJs here and there and musicians performing other genres. Young people were dancing, having fun. We walked back towards my place. Grand Place was looking like a dumping ground after the marathon.
In a nearby street an Argentinian man was playing guitar and singing beautifully in Spanish. A couple was dancing something like tango. A few people were standing around the singer, quietly chatting.
The song, the dance, the chat, the marathon…Had anything horrible happened? Was it possible at all that while life was carelessly continuing its course four innocent people were not part of it anymore?
My street was closed from my door up with two policemen walking around.
Today the weekend antique market at Sablon was there as usual. The stage and the empty stands were still there as well like monuments of something which will be tragically remembered not by its happening but by its premature ending.
Policemen and media patrolled in front of the Jewish Museum all day long. The pile of flowers was increasing. And little candles were burning.
It was a beautiful day and Parc d’Egmont, two streets away, was full of people. Children were running around. An older couple was dancing on the grass.
It was the day of the European Parliament elections. A day to remember the first and foremost reason for the creation of the European Union – to make sure that wars will never ever divide Europe again. And, finally, a day to face the frightening fact that while we are living in seeming peace the war of our times, the terrorism, steadily continues to take its victims all over Europe and the world. Those bullets which took the lives of the Jewish couple, the French volunteer and the local museum employee in the heart of the European capital were directed not only to them but to all of us.
Then how can we, the ordinary citizens, respond to that? Is living in constant fear an option? Is staying behind close doors the way? But this is exactly what they want, isn’t it? For fear is control. And if an embrace will not change these complex realities, at least it will add to the peace and love we all need to keep our world together…