13 April 2012

Strangers in the train

Morning rush hour.
The train which is supposed to get me to work in time is running late. "The next train to Retiro is coming in 12 minutes" the PA growls - loudly enough to be understood, which in itself is quite astonishing for an average Buenos Aires train station.

After roughly 10 minutes of eagerly eating away the pages of "Das Boot" (oddly enough, recommended to me by a lunatic Uni chemistry lecturer and given to me by my girlfriend - a war novel!), the PA comes to life again: "The next train to Retiro is coming in 15 minutes, due to a technical fault". Thanks for the details. I mutter some swears in Italian, much to the amusement of a next-standing girl.

People start to cram at the edges of the platform. My book and me try to stay steady on the platform floormark which indicates where the train door is going to open, knowing this could effectively mean whether or not I can get onto the train.
"The train is coming in 7 minutes". And shortly after: "The train is currently at the Rivadavia station". "Ok, not bad". Anyway, not that I care if I arrive 30 minutes later at work; it is fully accepted that commuting here is an issue and that public transport will not rarely leave you stranded somewhere in town.

As finally the train approaches and I see the first carriages packed with people pressing against the windows and doors, I gulp in amusement. "This is going to be like the final pull of the tuna fishnet".
It is not quite like tuna, but rather like sardines.
I manage to stay in front as a few people make their way out of the train, then I slide in and try to tuck myself into some air void amidst limbs and torsoes. I manage just fine until I start to eat hair. The bun of a girl comes slightly loose, and I need to arch my neck backwards and twist it slightly to one side, as if I were carefully observing the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.

Blackberries are everywhere. One could almost say that every person on the train is a plant, and every plant gives a fruit, and many plants are blackberry plants. I am a blackcurrant plant, a Nokia plant; my newly-acquired, but used, E55 proudly stands out as the odd one there, and it still looks to me as a spaceship.

Everyone is busy messaging. They hang on to a railing, if they are sufficiently near to it, and with the other hand they hang on to their mobile. When they are writing, the chances of them barging into someone increase sensibly. At the usual railroad switch, as always the carriage sways violently sideways, people lose their balance as I, in the middle of it, bend slightly my knees to acquire stability. Then, the train reestablishes its steady course.

I am surprised at how willing they are to share their private lives. I am standing as close to this girl as I can possibly be without being rude, we are almost spooning. I follow the whole conversation, important to them and unintelligible for me. I learn that some relative had some health issue which really scared him and the girl I'm almost spooning with, and that this man is somewhat considered to be dumb because he did not take care of himself.

I still wonder how the U-Boat is doing down there in the sea, being attacked by an allied destroyer. I leave them, there, in the Atlantic Ocean abysses, with the pages closed. At worst, it's 15 minutes of reading per day.

Passing by the largest 'villa miseria' in the country, the train sails toward the final destination, Retiro.

As it comes to a halt, everyone starts turning towards one side of the carriage. Just like ferromagnetic particles of molten rock aligning with the earth's magnetic field and then solidifying. The doors slide and slam open with a hiss of the compressed air system.
The train vomits humans out of the doors and, as the first passengers brush through the exit turnstiles, these known strangers start to tiptoe forward, tiptoe gracefully like geishas on a stage; yet they look as menacing as a relentless hoard of sect members.

The Damned Sect of the Train Commuters.

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