I arrived to the train station about an hour early this morning. I made the mistake of thinking that my train to New York left at 8:35am as opposed to fifteen minutes past that. The train station is surprisingly relaxing in the morning. There is a buzz of voices underneath repetitive robotic announcements,
We Apologize for any inconvenience
Use caution before stepping onto the train
I'm trying desperately to eavesdrop on the couple who are sitting a few feet away from me. I do this in order to help spawn new story ideas and possibly include some of it as believable dialogue. The two of them are dressed in suits; she looks like him, and him like her. I'm trying to decipher the chatter but really can't make out anyone's words. Everyone looks like a Sesame Street character.
"I'm sorry, but I did call her," he says. The businessman stands in front of the train station door with his brow furrowed staring at a spot that is nowhere on the floor.
He shoves one hand into his pocket, and leans slightly over to one side. He folds his other arm across his chest and tucks his hand into his arm pit.
"She did...she called me and said she didn't see Jaime."
He pauses for a moment.
"She called -- I spoke to her... She said that she had a game. She said that you'd go pick her up."
He hangs up the phone.
When I went to Spain years ago I took the train from Paris to Hendaye which is on the French-Spanish border, with Saint Sebastian on the Spanish side. I went to Paris first because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about, although I was much more excited about my next stop afterwards at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. This was an important trip for me because it was the first time that I truly traveled on my own with no one else but my map and the kindness and company of strangers guiding me along the way. I felt like Gerda in The Snow Queen, but not in Hans Christian Andersen's version, but rather Kelly Link's adaptation, where Gerda searches for her stolen love, walking barefooted and bleeding, being told by those characters she meets throughout her quest that she needs to let Kai go.
My trip throughout Europe lasted for four weeks wherein which I traveled by train from Paris to Bilbao, to Madrid, then to Lisbon, back to Madrid, to Barcelona, into Florence, and finally to Rome. It's strange that after several years, these train rides have collided into one another becoming one entire ride in my mind.
The notion of train stations as a concept, or metaphor for moving from one stage of life into the next did not exist for me back then. Train stations were places that were rooted in function and pragmatism, people go there to get from points A to B. They don't go there to wander or sit, or to wonder. The time that I spent at these stations again seemed very much like a blur to me now, the edges are all fuzzy, and there is a film of time that's grown onto of this memory glass that I look through.
I can still make out the shapes behind it.
I met her in a hostel in Madrid. It was a scum of a place, and incredibly inexpensive; only a few euros per night. It was filled with students mostly in their twenties from all over the world. There was a small seating area in a room next to the foyer and a largish white kitchen stained yellow from over-use. The bathrooms smelled sour, and I couldn't tell if the tiled floor at the base of the toilet was water or piss. She was from Milan and he was from Ireland. I thought they were a couple until she asked me where I was going one night and I said to her that I was headed to any gay bar or club that I could find.
"Why didn't you invite anyone?" she asked.
"Why would I?" I said, "Who would want to come?"
"Why? Are you a lesbian?"
For the next few of days this woman (whose name I have forgotten) and I spent the rest of our time together in Madrid. She was pretty with a slim and angular face, golden skin with light brown hair, streaked with blonde. She was a physical therapist, but her love was photography. She told me that Milan was terribly hot during the summer and that on the weekends Italians were not permitted to drive around the city because the pollution added to the summer heat. We traipsed around the city, and to Retiro park that was a short walk from the hostel. I had gone there only a few days ago and had sketched for a bit, and then slept for a bit, and then sketched for a bit more, and then went rowing after that. The park had a large pond in the center of it where you can rent a boat and row around in circles. I admit that I was incredibly lonely during that time. I was Gerda looking for Kai, meeting strangers along the way; I was uncomfortable and curious about this unfamiliar place of in-between. Although I no longer have any clear memories of what exactly we spoke about, or the details of our time spent together, I know that there was no need for it to transcend past that moment.
I remember the ending as clearly as the beginning, it's the middle that is out of focus. She and I walked back to Retiro park the morning that she was to leave for Milan. We sat on a bench for a short while. There was nothing special about that day - it was ordinary and hot, and there were people in the park. I had my sketchbook opened it up to a page that I had drawn of the park a few days prior. She looked at the drawing and made some comment. I remember that her words about my drawing were kind. She wrote down her email address and afterwards we talked for a bit. I'm not sure what we said, but maybe it was something about us keeping in touch.
I think both of knew that would not happen.
We sat for a short while longer, and then she said she had to head back to the hostel to retrieve her bags.
and then she got up and walked away.