A View from a Train

Lewis Fisher


The day started like any other waking up in the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires: the pang of a truck’s horn stirring you from the booze-induced slumber of the night before.

'Ugh, what time is it?' I roll over and ask the heavy-breathing mountain of flesh underneath my bunk bed.

It takes him what seems like an eternity to catch his breath before mustering the energy to inspect his watch and reply. The room is dank and dim, with only a crack of sunlight creeping through where the curtain meets the floor.

'Like one o’clock,' Peter mumbles.

Struth.

Another day half-wasted sleeping off the toxins from the night before. I try to piece together what happened last night to cause the dissonant, raucous chatter now manifesting itself as my thoughts, but as with a jigsaw just started there are more blanks than certainties.

There is a brief recollection of showgirls dancing on stage clad head to toe in chrome, wielding assault rifles that shoot laser lights and smoke.

What on earth happened last night?

As I retrace my memories, a penetrating aroma stings my nostrils.

This could only be one of Peter’s specialities, and with that harrowing alarm I race out of the dorm room and kick off my day.

Monolithic.

That term just about sums up Buenos Aires. Home to the infamous Nuevo de Julio, the largest road in the world, some 16 lanes wide. Excess and superfluousness dominate this city.

After scrounging my pockets and finding some pesos left over from last night, I head to the corner store. Vital necessities cement themselves in my mind – Gatorade and croissants lead the charge.

I sit down on the corner of Nuevo de Julio to eat my breakfast and let the sun wash over me in the most invigorating bath. Nothing shakes a hangover quite like the abrasive slap of the Latin American sun.

The world bustles here.

It’s a ceaseless barrage of industrial heavy metal containers howling past me; where they are going I don't know, and frankly I don't care.

The work in this city is never complete; a truth with two sides. The ever-expanding nature of the labyrinthine streets means that new apartments are always being built to keep up. Though these buildings have commenced construction, they are rarely finished. Often the upper storeys are contained by home-fashioned roofs and walls made of tarps or whatever scraps the residents can find.

Once the flashy neon lights for the glamorous discotheques are in the distance, poverty abounds in this city.

It occurs to me to check my travel diary, a small booklet I scrawl in from time to time. I skip through some pages to see a wholly unfamiliar sight. Underneath directions to the ostentatious nightclub I went to last night is a name, a place and a time, and to the side cursive in the shape of a heart.

Mel, Recoleta, 1.00 pm.  

My mind quickly puts the dots together and it becomes clear that some drunken charm from last night’s escapades penned me a date today. A date that started ten minutes ago. A date that will see me take a 30-minute train to get there. A date that I’ve condemned to shit before even arriving at.

Brilliant.

*

A shot of espresso helps to dust the remaining cobwebs from my brain as I set off for the train station, traversing the mass of people busily running around. Homeless people lay like litter on the streets, discarded and ignored by the rest of society as they step over them and down into the metro.

The carriages on the train are crammed with people of all sorts, from businessmen clad in suits sporting shiny watches to children as young as five travelling aimlessly on their own, navigating the pay stations by any means other than a valid ticket. I take my seat and wait out the dozen stops until my arrival.

From my seat on the train, a girl of seven years or so dressed in a scrappy two-piece pink tracksuit catches my eye. She is petite, but has long luscious black hair in a ponytail held together by a pink-hair tie. Her vibrant pink outfit puts a smile on my face when not much else would in my state.

Holding a cardboard box, she walks meticulously up and down the carriage as if running on autopilot. As she passes each person, she reaches into her box, pulls out a small packet of tissues and places it on their lap or in their hand. The whole process is silent; never does a passenger acknowledge her presence, even when the tissue packets are balanced precariously on their inner thigh.

Once she reaches the end of the carriage, she turns around and repeats the journey, wordlessly collecting tissue packs where she had only just placed them. Occasionally someone decides to keep the packet, and rather than the girl find the tissues on their lap she finds a small pile of coins, never in excess of five pesos.

She has carefully placed a packet on my lap on her way down, but this operation has me mystified and I remain frozen, watching her in a daze of unanswerable questions.

How long has she been working like this? Does she have a home to go to? Parents to help her?

She approaches where I am seated to find the packet of tissues and a measly few pesos I could spare and looks up to meet my gaze. I’m struck by how beautiful this young girl will be, and my mind flurries with what a wondrous and happy future she might have.

Our eyes lock and these thoughts halt. Charcoaled, barren lenses stare back at me and I think to myself that not even the night’s skies are as dark and exanimate as these eyes. Without flinching, the girl breaks her gaze and hurriedly shuffles the tissues into the box and the coins into her pocket.

The train stops and she disembarks our carriage. I watch her step around the swirling circus of bodies on the platform and onto the adjacent carriage.

We both continue with our days; I try in vain to search out Mel within the busy markets of Recoleta. And she, the small girl with the pink tracksuit, rides the metro until she has enough money to eat.


Lewis Fisher is the kind of guy that’s better friends with your mum than you. And this time, its personal. Between digressing into playful quodlibets and a yearning ambition to integrate cheese onto every meal, you’ll find him in a dressing gown and slippers multi-screening away. Among all this Lewis finds time to pen down his inner monologue and provide an integral source of editing others at Lucifer's Monocle.