Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The sound of death

With all I've experienced since leaving Korea at the end of August, I never thought the following content would be in my first post back after a month without my computer. But I'm compelled to take you with me through last Sunday evening, if you're so inclined to come along.

In a state of exhaustion I walked with my backpack to the train station in Castelldefels, Spain – just outside of Barcelona. “But Rebe,” I can hear you saying, “I thought you were off walking the Camino de Santiago, isn’t Santiago on the other side of the country?” Correct. I finished the walk in Santiago on Tuesday, stayed in the rainy city for two more days, and then on Friday morning I flew to Barcelona.

Spanish nationals for beach ultimate frisbee were held this past weekend in Castelldefels, and I had every reason to get myself there and watch the games. My team from Madrid would be playing, Hannah and Hermann (the London buds I’m currently visiting) would also be there playing, it had been over a year since I'd seen live ultimate, and what’s not to love about a sunny Spanish beach?

Even without having played in the tournament, the weekend still left me worn out. I was up as late as the players both nights, and woke up early with them too. Being out in the sun all day is for whatever reason draining, even if you’re not playing a sport.

So my mental state was extra bleary and depleted. I couldn’t wait to pass out in the bus that I would take at 22:15 that night back to Madrid, once I took the train into Barcelona and walked to the bus station.

I bought my train ticket from the machine and walked outside to the tracks. I figured out that I had to be on the other platform (on the opposite side) so I took the stairs that go down to a little tunnel underneath the tracks and then popped up on the other side.

I found a bench and sat down. There were some vending machines on the platform, and for just a split second I thought about indulging in something, but didn't (hooray me!). Two minutes later there was the regular pre-recorded announcement that the next train wasn’t stopping, please back away from the edge of the platform. When the train went by I remember noticing that you could really feel the air it stirred up from moving so quickly. Even after the train had passed, for at least ten seconds there was a big breeze trailing from the train. 

Image Source: Wikipedia

I was wondering about the science behind it, how could the movement of a fast train create that much wind behind it, and so long after it had left the scene. These thoughts were interrupted by another pre-recorded announcement. This one said that if you need to get to the other side of the tracks, please use the stairs and tunnel; do not cross the tracks. 

The platforms on both sides are raised about four feet above the ground. I looked down at the two tracks in the middle, seeing if I’d be able to push myself up onto the platform if I were down in the tracks. Just something I tend to do when staring at train or metro tracks. (If you were down in the Madrid metro tracks, there’s a cubby of space underneath the platforms on both sides where you could fit if a metro train came.) The platform edges here were straight down, though, so there would be just an inch or two between a train and the side of the platform. 

My attention then moved to a girl and her mom that were walking past. The girl said, “Mamá, me darías un dolla- digo, un euro?” (Mom, can you give me a dolla- I mean, a euro?). I pondered what had caused the girl to mistakenly say "dollar" instead of "euro". Had they just returned from a long time spent in a country that uses a dollar as their currency? Were they Spanish? Perhaps they were from a country that used dollars, and were simply visiting Spain. They sounded Spanish though, when talking with one another.

Some minutes go by, and there was an announcement that another train will go by without stopping, please step back from the platform. Although I’d been surprised at the speed of the first train, this train was much faster. The noise and force it created by speeding through were incredible. That must have been one of the high-speed trains, and the first one a medium-speed train.

Image Source: 

Glad to be sitting when it went by, I looked at the girl and her mother who were standing in the middle of the platform when the train had passed. They had to stop moving when it went by, sort of bracing themselves from the strong gust. The girl was now eating a pack of gummy bears, which she must have bought from the vending machines on the platform with that euro.

Then another train went through without stopping, but coming from the other direction on the far tracks. There was no indication on the screens when our train would be there. How long would I be waiting? When would a train come that actually stopped at this station?

My numb mind was happy with the weekend, but still eager to sleep. There were more people on the platform now that I’d been waiting here for nearly fifteen minutes, and the sky had darkened considerably as night was on its way.

There was another announcement for a passing train that wouldn’t stop. Shucks, another train that’s not ours. A few seconds later I could hear the train coming quickly, with its lights shining in the distance.

All of a sudden a man ran past my bench down the platform while shouting strongly with a hint of panic, “Quítate de allí! ¿Eres idiota? (Get out of there, are you an idiot?!). The urgency in his voice was almost tangible.

Wide awake, I turned my head to the left to see who he was shouting at. Was someone seriously down in the tracks? Who the hell would ever go down there?! Were they trying to cross? Had they gotten out? All I could see were the lights of the train that was now passing our platform as the shouting man continued without pause a final, insistent, “Quítate de allí!” (Get out of there!).


I will never forget that sound.

The train then slowed and stopped, with the front of the train some yards to my right. Everyone on the platform – myself included – had white faces and dropped jaws. My skin was crawling.

I think I just witnessed a suicide, I instantly thought, not wanting it to be true.

One of the first emotions I felt was the this-can't-be-happening-to-me feeling, even though it wasn't something that had happened to me, I had merely seen something happen - but the feeling was similar nonetheless. I had just been going about my normal day, the tournament, my exhaustion, wanting to get on the bus to sleep. And now a woman had stood in front of a fast train and been run over to her death - twenty yards to my left. This really just happened, it wasn't a dream.

Twenty seconds ago that woman was up on the same platform as me. Standing, living, breathing, thinking. What had she been thinking? She probably had walked right in front of me at some point during the 15 minutes I'd been sitting there on that bench. 

And now, moments later, she was irreversibly gone. Forever. With the passing of those few critical seconds, a line was crossed and there was no returning to the other side.

The next overwhelming feeling was sadness. There were surely people who loved this woman. How would they take the news? What had been so terribly wrong that she thought this was her only option? Could we have done something more? What if I hadn't been so sleepy, and actually observed the entire platform? Would I have seen her jump down before the shouting man noticed her? What if I had walked further initially and sat at a bench near the woman. What if someone had struck up conversation with her? Would any of these tiny details have changed the outcome of this night?

But these thoughts were pointless. She was gone, forever.

Many of the people inside the stopped train still had smiles on their faces. They were chatting with each other, reading books, some were probably complaining about the delay, speculating. They didn't know.

The doors of the first car then opened, just to my right. The news was quickly passed to those inside the first car. Two metro workers were on the platform, on the phone with various others, retelling what had happened according to what eye witnesses from our platform had told them.

And meanwhile newly arriving passengers continued to cross under from the station to our platform, unaware of what had just occurred.

Still trying to take it all in, I sat back down. I had over two hours to get to the bus station, so there was no rush to figure out how I'd get there now. How long would the train sit here? How difficult would it be to identify the woman? Is there protocol for this type of situation?

Time was impossible to track, there was only before and after. So at some point after, passengers on the stopped train were instructed to get off. Our platform quickly filled up with people.

And some point after that, an announcement was made that the next train, a train going to Barcelona, would stop on the alternate Track 4, the other side of our same platform. The train came and most everyone boarded, leaving the bomberos (firemen) to do whatever it is they did next at the scene.

It was strange to be mixed with a train of people who had not witnessed what we had, "we" being us passengers from Track 3. The others were happily oblivious, while I knew I could never erase the sound of that thud from my mind.

But as the train carried us farther away from Castelldefels Track 3, I no longer felt like I could cry. The farther away we got, and the more that us Platform 3 passengers dispersed through various transfers and stations, the weaker my previous feelings became.

We were thrown back into the hustling bustling daily life of these train stations, with tourists, locals, families, workers - everyone on their own agendas. And time no longer stood still.

As I made my transfer through a busy station, I was able to reflect that life is precious. Life is not forever. 

Though neither are feelings.

Feelings, both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, do not stick around forever. This is why it's important to recognize and fully appreciate those perfectly happy moments, and to have patience during the tough sunken times as well.

I do not currently feel how I felt Sunday night on Platform 3. In fact, as I described, my initial feelings left within a half hour, as I got farther away from the platform. But that sound, oh that sound. 


The sound of death might just stay with me forever.
• • •


  1. Wow. Rebe. Wow. So sorry you had to witness this. I randomly decided to peruse your blog tonight and I am glad that I did for many repasos. Though this article is hauntingly beautiful and I'm glad I came across it tonight.

    Lots of love, amiga. And I love the new pixie cut - you do look like one tough lady.