On the 3rd of May 2007, at around 8.30 p.m., I sat down with my family at the table on the terrace, for dinner. It was chilly outside, and the fact that we insisted on dining in the open air, that evening, can only be explained by the eagerness that befalls us at this time of the year, in a certain anticipation of summer, of long family dinners and carefree chatting in the warm evening air, of flip-flops and t-shirts and shorts around the clock.
I remember that particular evening well, because it would soon become relevant for me to recall the lighting, the temperature, the weather of that day and subsequent night. We turned the lights on, as it wasn’t dark yet, but dusk had clearly settled in, and night falls rather swiftly.
It was an unremarkable dinner, a slightly rushed one, because the chill soon became too uncomfortable and we hurried back inside after eating.
An unremarkable Friday was supposed to follow, opening an equally unremarkable weekend. But much would change on that otherwise normal evening, due to events that unfolded in Luz, at around the time that we shut down the lights on the terrace after dinner.
What followed, the next day, was a voyage like I had never imagined could lie before me.
Like many, many people all over the world, I soon became attached to a little English girl that I never met, and to her fate – a fate that continues to puzzle me, in certain aspects. Her short life became part of my life, some would say obsessively so. I’ve lost sleep over her story, I’ve felt sad and frustrated and angry at times, I’ve ridden a rollercoaster of thoughts, emotions and confused theories that have cost me what little was left of my innocence.
My youngest son was one-and-a-half when Madeleine disappeared. We live relatively close to Luz, and the case was the talk of the town, in the early morning of the 4th of May 2007. It was probably only natural that, as a mother, rumours of a paedophile abduction so close to home drove me to search for information on the internet, that morning. I don’t remember how I arrived on Steve Huff’s ‘The True Crime Weblog’, but I’m forever grateful to whichever God led me there. That was where it all started, for me: people appreciated the ‘local angle’ that I, like other fellow Portuguese posters, timidly at first, was able to provide.
The next few months would be spent on internet forums and message boards, exhaustively discussing every ridiculously little detail of this harrowing story. At first, in solidarity with what seemed to be a devastated English couple; solidarity that would soon turn into vague doubt, and then open suspicion.
I am a firm believer that none of us is a ‘simple’ person, a bi-dimensional cardboard figure without depth or variation. We play many roles in our everyday lives, and each role has, in itself, nuances and changes which turn us into rich, multi-shaded persons.
The Madeleine McCann case has appealed to me, as it certainly has to you, on many different levels. I’ve been moved to tears as a mother, angered and outraged as a Portuguese citizen, confused as a media consumer, interested and active as a rational human being. I’ve looked out for Madeleine, defended my country, taken part in heated online discussions about shutters and windows and timelines. I feel like I’ve been around the world in less than 24 hours, when the first ‘Sol’ article, by Felícia Cabrita, that I translated and posted on the ‘Green Board’ on the 2nd of July 2007, actually did fly around the world in under a day, changing the perception of so many people and marking the beginning of a new era in online discussions.
Among the hundreds, thousands of fellow travellers, I’ve had the privilege to meet some amazing people; people that have shared their experiences, their opinions and their feelings without asking for anything in return. I’ve made friends for life, and while I sit here and write this, there’s a distinct lump in my throat, remembering some of the moments that we’ve shared both in virtual and in real life.
Two years are a long time in anyone’s existence. Me, I’ve moved house, saw my eldest daughter leave for university 300 kilometres away from home, adopted a dog, lost two beloved people, learned an extra job to make ends meet, and watched my little son grow to become almost as old as Madeleine was when she disappeared without a trace. And throughout all of these events, I’ve lost and recovered hope to find out, one day, what happened to Madeleine McCann.
Anniversaries are always markers, even for people like me, who deeply dislike the notion of marking an ‘anniversary’ over Madeleine’s disappearance, and special dates tend to bring along the temptation for retrospectives. Looking back on the Madeleine McCann case, I realise that I could never, not in a million years, have imagined the manner in which it evolved, the sheer magnitude of it – and that two years down the line, we’d still be waiting to know what happened to this child.
The world was summoned to help search for one missing child, a child that obfuscated all other children in distress or suffering. This case, promoted by the girl’s parents to an almost nauseating degree, pretending that it is a typical 'abduction by paedophiles', has always been anything but typical. I know that for myself, the more a certain desensitisation grew with every time I saw a ‘Maddie’ poster or image, the more painfully obvious it became that this icon, this trademarked child, had set a serious precedent.
No other missing child had ever received the media attention that was dispensed to her, both instantaneously and in the long term. The media coverage of the Madeleine McCann case will soon become a case study in the best and worst of journalism, as it could and should become a case study in the best and worst of sociology. The level of aggressiveness and insult that emerges in more than a few discussions about the case, can only be matched in intensity by the level of solidarity and helpfulness that the family received from the wider public, in the days and weeks after the fateful event.
I suppose it’s only natural that after following the case for two years, on an almost daily basis, I sometimes feel helpless, frustrated and tempted to throw in the towel, figuratively speaking.
While it sounds almost ridiculous that I should speak in this manner about a person that I’ve never even met, and a case that I have absolutely nothing to do with; while I’m more than aware that in practical terms, there is nothing whatsoever that I can actually do, except to try to make information as widely available as possible; while my rational self tells me that maybe it’s time to let go and devote my energies to something more productive, and lucrative… In spite of all that, I still sit down at my desk at home every morning, looking out over the Arade river, with the little village of Ferragudo sitting right across – and how Ferragudo resembles the old, unspoilt Luz! -, and check the news about the Maddie case, desperately waiting to read something, anything that might indicate a near end for the mystery.
Corny as it may sound, determination is all that is left, for now, to keep us going. Determination and hope. Hope that someone, somewhere may finally grow a conscience and realise that it’s time for the world to know what destiny befell Madeleine. There are many good men and women in this world; the world that was summoned to search for Madeleine is still searching for the truth. And no matter how strong and powerful the lock is on that truth, time is on our side, as those who won’t give up on Madeleine grow more numerous by the day.
It’s been 728 days since Madeleine disappeared without a trace.
728 days since I shut down the lights on the terrace, on the evening of the 3rd of May 2007, and put my little son to bed.