Arévalo’s train station sits atop a hill a half-mile from town, alone and tragic like one of Hemingway’s short stories.
I was sitting by myself in the one-room brick station reading A Clean, Well-Lighted Place when an elderly man opened the door. He walked inside past the ticket counter and sat directly beside me. I glanced at the other three empty benches, then closed my book and greeted him respectfully.
“Buenas noches,” he replied. He was leaning forward in his chair with his hands upon his cane. He sat there for a minute stroking his thick gray mustache in silence. His brown tweed jacked was pulled taut by his paunch and his gray sweater was sprinkled with breadcrumbs. His deep breaths smelt of anis. I opened my book and continued reading.
What he said to me next I cannot recall, as our subsequent conversation was so peculiar that it overshadowed whatever small talk we may have had.
“I am alone,” he said. “My wife is dead.” I offered my condolences but he brushed them aside and cut right to the chase.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” he asked.
“Not at the moment.”
“Then you are alone as well.” He sighed and tapped his finger against his cane. “Why don’t you have a Spanish girlfriend?”
“I just arrived three weeks ago.”
“Ah, I see.” The Old Man paused and stared at his feet. He looked me in the eyes.
“Have you follado a Spanish girl yet?” he asked, his eyes wide with curiosity. I begged his pardon and he repeated and clarified the one question I had never expected a 75-year-old stranger to ask me.
I tried to evade his question. He persisted. The Old Man turned, leaned towards me, and continued in an excited whisper.
“Spanish girls go all night, don’t they? Come on, tell me! How many have you had?”
I reduced my Spanish proficiency and pretended not to understand.
The door opened again and a girl about my age walked inside. The Old Man straightened up and smiled, then followed her eagerly with his eyes as she walked past. When she leaned against the counter to buy her ticket The Old Man couldn’t control himself anymore. He elbowed me, pointed at her, began tracing the contours of her body with his wrinkled hands and longingly caressing the empty air. He winked at me.
She took her ticket and sat down across from us to wait for her train. I slid away from The Old Man and hoped the presence of a third person would end this awkward scene. I opened my book and continued reading:
‘What did he fear? It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada, nada pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada…’
The Old Man bumped me with the handle of his cane to get my attention. I threw him an exasperated look. He was holding his cane with the heel in the air. His slid his right hand down the cane about a foot from the end and pointed his left hand toward my crotch.
“How big are you?” he whispered. His mouth was slightly ajar and his eyes were open wider than ever. He slid his hand an inch closer towards the end of the cane. “¿Asi?”
I looked at him closely and noticed again the breadcrumbs that covered his chest, probably remnants of his last solitary meal. No wife to brush off his crumbs, no reason to look in the mirror. I opened my mouth to say something but I pitied him too much to get angry.
I stood up and said good-bye. “Mi tren viene ahora. Cuidate.”
“Where are you going? Your train doesn’t leave for another 17 minutes!” he called after me as I walked outside into the cold. I crossed the tracks and saw his black silhouette staring at me from the waiting room of the station.
It was a cold, dark night and I could see my breath as clearly as the constellations above me. I have eight months left in this town, I thought. Lord, please spare me from such a fate.
The light of my train appeared in the distance. I tucked Hemingway into my backpack as the train passed the factories, slowed, and stopped at the platform. I swung onto the train and sped away from Arévalo.
And so began my double life.