BRUSSELS - Love filled an iconic square in the middle of Brussels, where, for three days now, has been a gathering point for thousands of Belgians wanting to show solidarity in the face of the country’s worst attack since World War II.
Messages of hope and love were scrawled with coloured chalk all over the century-old Brussels Stock Exchange building that stands at the plaza, which was covered in a sea of candles, flowers and Belgian flags.
A few held up cardboard signs spotting the words “Free Hugs”. Others huddled and broke out spontaneously into song. A few groups came prepared – a choir made up largely of women; a man on a didgeridoo and his posse; a group who sat in silence, meditating.
Ms Lea Teheux, 28, who works for an environmental NGO and was at the square with a friend, said she wanted to be there to show solidarity with other Belgians and that she was not afraid.
“Everyone woke up this morning, and you can really feel this sadness in Brussels,” she said.
“Some of my friends told me, ‘I never thought this would happen in Brussels’. But if you think about it, it’s the capital of Europe, so you can expect something awful like that to happen.”
Threatening to outnumber Ms Teheux and the hundreds of others there were the numerous international journalists, cameramen and TV vans that have descended on the square and set up camp.
One particular news outfit even rented a room at the Marriott which faces the square, and got its presenter to speak from the balcony.
More commemorative events are in the pipeline: more than 3,000 people have signed up on Facebook to attend a rally on Easter Sunday touted by its organisers as “a peaceful march for all victims” of the Brussels attacks.
“It’s tragic but we’re not the only ones,” said Khael V, 27, a freelance filmmaker who was at Place de la Bourse on Wednesday night with a group of friends.
“In many parts of the world, such attacks happen every day. And those lives are equally important,” he said.
“We have to keep our heads cool and live on, and not give them what they want, which is fear.”