The steps on the sidewalk | Babelia

The steps on the sidewalk | Babelia

A phrase read in an article suddenly unleashes the flow of memory: a flash or a pang of old and revived pain precedes conscious memory. I am reading the newspaper in the placidity of Sunday morning and I am back in a distant past that nevertheless never loses its edge. Within the man of gray hair in years that I am now awake a boy who has just turned 18 and begins to look at the world, who arrived in Madrid just two months ago, with his apathy and provincial illusion, with his daydreams of personal rebellion and political activism, all mixed with a vocation of the whole adolescent for literature.

The return has awakened a phrase in an article of Edurne Portela. Reading begins as an exercise in political reflection and in a moment it has become something else, a latent memory that time does not muffle because it is a sudden and cruel income in adult life. Portela writes about the Spanish shame of forgetfulness, lack of interest and public recognition towards those persecuted by the dictatorship, those who rose up against her and received the scourge of her cruelty. Right in the center of the most visible and most degraded tourist of Madrid is the scandal of the invisible and the erased. The emphatic headquarters of the Community of Madrid was the Directorate General for Security during the dictatorship, the black hole to which thousands of detainees were thrown, many of them beaten, tortured, killed. From the facade of what we called many years ago, degeese At the end of last year, a large Spanish flag hung without the constitutional shield, surrounded by a variety of Christmas decorations. On that facade there is a plaque that recalls the popular uprising of May 2, 1808, but none commemorating other heroism and suffering closer, those of the prisoners – and the many prisoners, Portela points out – who suffered in the cells of the cellars and they were interrogated and tortured in offices with an administrative air, with gray metal furniture, typewriters, ashtrays full of butts.

Whoever walks on the sidewalk, always invaded by tourists, may not notice the barred windows at street level. The lintels are made of granite, and the bars are very solid. Behind them is the start of vaults that descend towards a pit blackness. Edurne Portela writes: "I look at those windows in the basement from which the prisoners said they heard people pass by". From the floor of the cells, and from the concrete block on which the mats were lined up, the windows were very tall. Not even rising on the shoulders of another prisoner could have reached the bars and peek into the street, at the height of the sidewalk, where the footsteps of people. That is the most precise memory, more accurate, after so much life, 45 years. The footsteps of the people were heard very clearly, and by their sound the men of the women were distinguished, the fast and busy taconeo of the youth and the steps dragged of the old ones or of the beggars or the patients. Thanks to that percussion, the ear compensated for the absence of sight.

But not only were the footsteps heard from the bottom of the well, from inside the cell. There were also the canes of the blind, who at that time still proclaimed their lottery at the corners, and the bellows of the hydraulic brakes of the buses that had the stop very close. Sometimes the seismic rumor of subway trains was noticeable. There were gusts and fragments of conversation, laughter, shouts, the peremptory voice of a man calling a taxi, the whistles of the traffic guards. When the sun hit a certain angle, in the gray air of the cell the shadow of someone passing by was glimpsed. The light filtered by the dirty metal mesh had a rat color. Freedom, simple everyday life, was a few steps above us, and also as far away as if it did not exist, like the painful memory of what has been lost forever.

The sounds that came from the depths of that basement were more sinister. The doors of the cells opened and closed with threatening violence. We were 20 in a cell for 10. The number is inscribed in my memory as in the door, above the peephole: 47. The murmur of our conversations in a shadow without nuance in which always burned a bare bulb stopped when we listened steps, boots heels on the frozen stone floor. It was March 1974. They had just executed Salvador Puig Antich. Without knowing almost anyone still in the Faculty, I had joined a demonstration of protest against crime, cutting traffic on Complutense Avenue. The gray men in high boots and steel helmets, with black poles and gleaming spurs, charged against us on horseback, under the rattle of a police helicopter flying very low.

All in all, I was lucky. I was hit between several people lying on the floor, and during the interrogation I took some slaps, in front of a table with ashtrays and files. Threatening a scared and handcuffed teenager must have been an entertaining hobby. They had me locked up for three days in that cell and they gave me an administrative fine that was equivalent to almost a quarter of my scholarship and forced me to extreme hardship. They persistently condemned me to be afraid: to be arrested again, to lose the scholarship and, therefore, to resign from the university. The first or the second night the door of the cell was opened and a prisoner who was brought between two grays collapsed like a wink on the ground. He told us that he had been tortured by beating the soles of his feet for hours. Along the corridors, next to the cell doors, were the boots and shoes without laces of the detainees. The arrival and progress of the night could be measured by the silence that was made little by little on the sidewalk. After midnight there were no buses and you could hear isolated steps, laughter from revelers. In that silence was when fear really arrived.


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