Since I’d purchased my train ticket upon arrival in Lagos, and had loosely planned to make it to Algeciras in three days to make the crossing to Morocco, I passed on the ditch-digging job. Instead I took a train to the Spanish-Portuguese border where I crossed the Guadiana by ferry. Back in Spanish-land, Andalusia, entering through the village of Ayamonte, I was able to use my marginal college Spanish. I made my way to the nearest Tabac to pick up a pack of Fortunas, then headed into town seeking cheap accommodations; a place to read, and sleep.
“No tengo mucho dinero,” I’d say.
“Lo siento amigo.”
Over the red-tiled, dusty, cut-and-dried town, the sun set low in the sky casting its solemn, pinkish hue on the suddenly omnipresent world. For a moment the villager’s faces were transformed from a Gothic, gargoyle-grey to something saintly and almost sweet, like a mosaic in the St. Apollinare. But all seemed transformed into con-men when it came to bargaining for a bed.
The topic of money snuffed out this last flicker of godliness and I decided to move on, to hitch-hike to the next town, and a possible train headed south. Tired, hollow, dull-ache, sunset, where’s home from here?, mind.
I stalked heavy-footed on my tarmac path, a narrow, two-laned, “Mexican-One”-like highway where, at the edge of town stood the broken down, empty remains of an abandoned railway station which might once have served to carry me south. I have “all the time in the world,” I thought, but do I want it?
Hitch-hiking in Andalusia is not advisable if a ride is what you’re after.
The sun sank and I waited. Cars passed. The world turned, quite a revolution.
Situated alongside a fallow field and facing west, the dying light offered a little pioneer glory to my asphalt predicament. I ate some bread and cheese, smoked a few more Fortunas, drank the rest of a two-day-old soda, and when twilight arrived, I crossed the road to the Mari-Ro hostel and bargained for a bed. The manager was an arrogant bastard but I was too tired to argue.
“Diez mil pesetas.”
Just give me a room, I thought… “esta bien,” handing him the money, “las llaves por favor… gracias,” he gave me the keys.
In bed I read the last few pages of Kundera’s, The Joke which Norbert had given me, then fell into a disjointed sleep and dreams of lepers and whorehouse red. Sweet sleep that I long for.
Morning… bright… clear… oppressive… waking… moaning… dream images… vertigo thoughts… mind.
In the morning I caught a bus in front of the hostel and headed into the fields and orchards of southern Spain and three days without sleep. The sky was grey and I’ve always had this thing about grey skies; sleepy, inward, ponderous. Cafe con leche at every stop was more than a feeble attempt to defy my mood and, mixed with a pack of cigarettes, kept me at least somewhat focused on something outside of my head.
In a cafe at the Huelva railway station I ate two ham sandwiches and went outside to read, but ended up writing a short poem.
blue fire lightning strikes desire in eyes
like red tide swells that fold & fall
then merge on the surface
wishing to be a flame
Sevilla. Waiting hours between connections. San Jose Del Cabo, that’s what it looks like. But that was another time. Just a few years ago, but another time.
A few streets away from the station I came across two Brits playing broken riffs for Spanish coin. He played and she smiled with a tin can, collecting. They’d been in Sevilla for about three weeks and were making something like three thousand pesetas a day. They slept in a van parked on the edge of town. “Lovely here,” she said over and over. Nigel offered me a turn on the guitar, then helped me muddle through a few chords of “Sweet Jane.”
“Where’re you headed chief?” he asked with a broad Lancashire accent.
“Morocco… Marrakesh. I want to be in Algeciras in a couple of days to make the crossing.”
“Not exactly the right time for a yank to be in Morocco. With the Iranian thing and bloody Ramadan. It’s a bleedin’ sin to eat during the day. Allah humma laka sumna, wa ‘ala rizqika aftarna. A lot of ‘em get barmy on you… might better hold on to your fuckin’ head.”
“Fuck it, I just want to see Marrakesh.”
“The shops are opening up, would you like an ice cream.” said Nigel’s girlfriend.
“Sure,” I said.
Over ice cream they talked about strawberry season and how they’d done pretty well as pickers. I toyed for a moment with a Kerouacean notion of joining them, but didn’t.
After the ice cream I wished them luck and headed toward the train station. Some young Spanish girls were returning to their school which stood adjacent to the platform. As they passed, some smiled, their eyes like twilight. The ancestors of Mexican girls, embroidered in the Americas with Indian motifs. I smiled back innocently.
Their latin lovers followed the line of their gaze, then looked at me with contempt.
I was hungry again so I set off across the main square in search of food. After walking the perimeter of the square I ended up in a sort of cafe across the street from the station. I ate a sort of hamburger and drank a coke and was stared at by a few very old people. It was quiet and I suspected it would be until I left. They knew and I knew that I wouldn’t be there long and soon they would be free to talk amongst themselves and perhaps guess where the fair-haired young man had come from and where he might be going and where they themselves had been but never where they might go again.
As the sun set over the Guadalquivir, a group of excited students got on the train and sat in the seats around me. Some of the girls smiled and giggled as they discovered the foreigner in their midst. The boys smiled and giggled at them. They were traveling light.
“Adonde van?” I asked.
“On a day trip to Sevilla para Museo Principal de Bellas Artes,” said one of the boys, trying out his English. “Quiere ir?” (Have you been)
“El año pasado pero… ahora voy a Morocco. Estoy en Sevilla solamente por el tren.”
“El museo es ‘brilliant,’” said one girl, “brilliant and lovely.” I found it charming how she fell into a sort of English accent when she used English words but found her overzealousness suffocating. The door had opened to continue talking to her but I went cold.
I managed to smile as I turned away and settled back in to my seat. In turning I noticed two very nice looking girls to my right. They smiled and I turned away. When I turned back toward them they were speaking between themselves, one looking into a compact and fixing her make-up. The door closed. Women felt forbidden to me. If not women, then what? Bread. Dry bread. I looked again, they were dragons. The world of the train car went away and again I was back in Anaya’s bathroom, tripping. Only this time, I was seeing Great Uncle Norman, Normy the fucking molester, and the fear that must have been on my father’s face when he was a boy and then my father yelling at me, calling me a pansy and a pussy.
The train began to move. I grabbed my notebook and wrote:
Narcissistic hedonists existing on half-tuned terms,
like germs in a culture,
like the vultures we’ve become.
We look into a mirror, not into the past, the present, nor the future, but at ourselves, fed by vanity, vanity and self-absorption.
I got up from my seat and went to the back of the car, I was on auto pilot now and not thinking just moving and only slightly interested in where I was being led. I’d made it to the back door, opened it and heard the noise of the wheels against the rails, and the wind, the wind in my face between train cars in the open, but I wanted it to be done, not all of me but a big part was ready to move on, to be done. The train was at full speed now.
Behind me the train conductor said in Spanish:
“If you jump you will most certainly die.”
Precise statement, pithy, decide.
I had to either jump or go home. At that point I wasn’t sure where home was.
I heard the words of U2’s “Into the Heart” coming from a cassette player inside the train:
“Into the heart of a child, I can stay a while, but I can’t go back.”