undays are always abubble around the market of Sant Antoni, with thousands of book lovers browsing old volumes at the Sunday market and the kids on the pavement swapping picture cards. If we also add that for the holidays the market opens on Sunday and the stallholders race to expedite shellfish and other delicacies, you can just imagine the fuss there was last December 23rd, when ambulances and fire trucks appeared at the junction of Tamarit and Comte Borrell streets.
Humans are inquisitive by nature and, if the spectacle catches them footloose, then it’s a feast for their eyes. So the epicentre of the emergency was crowded with curious passers-by, while a stressed local policeman moved them back, unrolling one of those “do not pass” plastic tapes to mark a safe perimeter. The questions, of course, floated in the air. What can have happened? It couldn’t be a fire because there’s no smoke from any balcony, a pensioner reflected. Some let loose a suicidal hypothesis, but someone dismissed it, because they would have come from the morgue. “They have killed another,” said a girl that was passing by.
Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who would preach and leave bibles there, watched enthralled, forgetting for a few minutes that the end of the world is nigh
Cyclists, dog walkers, pensioners who would spend their mornings on the bench and parents with restless kids: the crowd grew along with the queries. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who would preach and leave bibles there, watched enthralled, forgetting for a few minutes that the end of the world is nigh. The firefighters’ ladder extended further and further, until it reached a particular balcony. Heightened attention was paid by couples on their way to 12 o’clock mass, watching next to an African guy with a trolley full of scrap metal, and a Japanese couple with suitcases at their feet who pulled out their mobiles to record it all.
Finally, two or three firefighters bring out a kind of portable stretcher onto the balcony and tie it to the ladder. They take their time, it wouldn’t be good if they dropped it. The chief of the operation speaks with the person on the stretcher, who is obviously conscious, and suddenly the ladder begins to lower four or five storeys, at a very slow, exasperating pace. Speculation continues. “Maybe it’s one of those obese people who can no longer move by themselves,” says someone. Finally, the ladder reaches street level, and the dozen firefighters, health and municipal service personnel who had until then been looking up, suddenly come into action, even if it is just to look like they actually earn their keep, because they’ve been just standing there a good half hour watching and commenting on the situation.
From the ladder to the ambulance, the operation will last less than a minute and end with the applause of the neighbourhood crowd. Of course, no one will see if the casualty is a man or a woman, old or young, and unless the victim has dedicated their life to the opera, they can be pretty sure that they will never have commanded the attention of so many people.
As I leave, I encounter a lady with a full cart on her way back from shopping and who seems informed by reliable sources. “I’ve been told it’s a lady who’s fallen down and could not get back up,” she tells a neighbour. “And since they couldn’t get her down the stairs, they had to call the firefighters.” “I like that,” says the other, “when they’re not busy, they help with these things.” And with their farewells, without a trace of drama, Sant Antoni returns to life goes on : “You all right?”. “Yes, just getting along”.