Metro Mensch in Madrid
Story by Sven Krüger; Illustration by Manuel Ferrari

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Juan chooses order then chaos
It was a day of chaos in the Spanish capital. Real Madrid, in their last game of the season, were playing Barcelona for the football championship. Both teams needed a win, a draw would give Seville the title.

It was also the day when Juan’s older brother David was killed on his motorcycle. Football fans broke all the traffic rules in their rush to the Bernabeu Stadium and those without tickets were desperate to reach television sets at home and in bars.

Maria, Juan’s mother, was not told about the accident until after the match, which ended in a nil-nil draw. She took the call at Barajas Airport where she worked as a cleaner. David was already dead by the time the ambulance arrived more than an hour after the driver of a yellow Fiat had hurled him against a 100-year old plane tree.

Friends from the airport came to the funeral and afterwards prepared a little meal for Juan and his mother at their apartment. The next day Juan received a card from his father in Venezuela wishing him a happy birthday, his tenth.

The driver of the yellow Fiat was charged with manslaughter. But his lawyer argued the police were to blame. They had lost control of the traffic situation.

Juan read about the court case in El Pais after the driver was acquitted. The newspaper accused the police of allowing ‘traffic anarchy’ to develop on the day of the match. Television reported from London and Munich where big football matches did not cause mayhem on the roads.

Three months after David’s death, Juan and Maria moved to a new apartment, closer to the airport. And Juan decided to change. He understood that chaos was bad and order was good. With order his brother would still be alive.

He started to fold his shirts and his jumpers. His trousers were no longer flung onto the bed but kept on hangers. No more piles of books on the floor. Instead they were placed alphabetically by author on the bookshelf below his window. Juan did not limit his drive for orderliness to his own room. It extended to the whole apartment building. He disapproved of his mother when she left dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and more than once argued with the janitor for allowing other tenants to leave their bicycles in the entrance hall.

Juan also decided to become a traffic officer after he saw an old Italian film with a scene of a policeman controlling the flow of cars and scooters at the Rome Coliseum. He would do the same in Madrid.

However, by the time Juan was eighteen and had left school, policemen no longer directed traffic. They were replaced by computer-controlled traffic systems, which responded instantly to changing volumes and flows. Chaos had shifted from the roads to the skies.

The number of flights in and out of Barajas Airport had trebled in the past ten years and people living underneath the fly paths were increasingly concerned about stories describing near misses. One or two reports even suggested that it was only a matter of time before two airplanes collided above Madrid.

Juan applied for a place and was accepted on a one-year course to become an air traffic controller. He impressed his instructors with his single-minded concentration and his ability to memorise minute details. While other students caused collisions on their simulators, all the planes controlled by Juan took off and landed safely.

Maria no longer worked as a cleaner when Juan passed his exams. But both still lived in the apartment near the airport. She started to complain about the noise of the planes and the increasing number of early and night flights.

After his exams, Juan was given a job at the air traffic control centre on the Canary Islands. With his first salary cheque he paid for double windows in his mother’s apartment. Six months later she was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery was discussed but rejected.

Juan had no difficulty in getting a transfer back to Madrid where he shared the care for his mother with one of his aunts from Salamanca. Despite double windows and increasing doses of morphine, Maria found little sleep. Doctors suggested a move to a hospice and secured a bed in an establishment in a quiet suburb of the city. But three days before her transfer, Maria’s condition deteriorated dramatically. Moving her out of the apartment was now impossible.

Maria had rejected religion all her life but now she started to pray for sleep.

Before Juan left for his night shift, he gave his mother her morphine. At work he waited for his colleagues to take their midnight break before he initiated an emergency procedure, which was last used during a royal wedding, to clear the airspace above Madrid. Flights to Barajas were diverted to other Spanish airports and take-offs were halted.

The resulting chaos above Spain quickly spread to France and Portugal. At the end of the night airports as far as London, Amsterdam and Cologne were affected. Maria fell asleep shortly after midnight. She never woke up again.

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