20 people were killed in the suicide bombing at Maelbeek metro station
Family members and survivors posted messages on a board in the station
At 6 a.m. they started to arrive, resuming what had been a regular commute until a terrorist detonated his bomb at this metro station at 9:11 a.m. on March 22.
Maelbeek station has been closed since that day of carnage, which claimed 20 lives and injured dozens more commuters. About an hour earlier on the same day, another 12 people had been killed in a suicide bombing at the Brussels Airport.
On Monday, the station reopened in a symbolic moment of healing for a city still reeling from the attacks.
As the first train rumbled into the station, a dozen soldiers and police guarded the platform, as much to reassure the public as to respond to another sinister act.
One passenger described the atmosphere at Maelbeek as “strange.”
“You tend to look at all the other passengers as, you know….,” he said, trailing off rather than give voice to the feelings of suspicion and vulnerability so many now feel in the wake of the attacks on innocent civilians.
Messages to the dead
While the structural damage caused by the blast has been fixed, the human toll still resonates in the station.
This is illustrated most poignantly with the installation of a condolences board near the ticket barriers.
When a CNN crew arrived early Monday morning, this large white board was already full of messages, handwritten by survivors and the families of victims who were permitted to visit the station on Saturday to have a moment of reflection in private.
It was the first opportunity they’d had to visit the place their loved ones died.
The sentiments were in a multitude of languages – French, Flemish, English, Arabic, Dutch and Spanish – demonstrating the breadth of suffering caused by the bombers, and giving an insight into the lives lost.
One message in French tells of a daughter. “I love my little Sabrina. I miss you. Go in Peace. Mom.”
Another pays tribute to the mother of a Polish family. “Dearest Mother, you will always stay in our hearts. Your loving children, father and the whole family.”
And at the bottom of the board, a simple message in Dutch from a woman now raising a toddler alone: “I live for you.”
Victim and witness
Survivors of the metro blast also shared their thoughts.
Many spoke of how fortunate they felt to be alive, but one woman who signed herself simply “Christelle” summed up the overwhelming sentiment of the board.
“I am a victim of barbarity, but I am also a witness to solidarity.”
The united voice against terrorism has been loud in Belgium and is ringing still as the city takes a step toward closure. But it is only one step.
“It is rather difficult to come here again,” said one commuter. “We are still thinking about the people who died here and I think it will take a long time before we are back to normal life here.”