A little later we pulled into Hermosillo, our first stop. Before the train had even ground to its grating halt all the people were barging toward the exits. Lucas looked at me and I looked at Lucas, we were wide-eyed, amazed, and pleased. We assumed everyone would be glued to their seats for the duration. Stretched before our eyes was what seemed like an ocean of empty seats. Seats and more seats, all empty! All the seats danced before our eyes, in double, in triple! We were stunned, watching the last of the passengers as they milled out the door. Then we made our move.
“Hah!” Lucas settled into his new home. “Motherfuck! This feels good! Never again will I ride the slow train to Mexico!”
“Nor I.” said I. “Once is plenty.”
I let all my muscles relax and settle into the frayed and stained cushions, like a king’s velvet throne, absorbing a semblance of comfort. After more than a dozen hours on a metal milk crate it was more than I could have hoped for.
We were alone.
“Where the fuck is everybody, man?”
“Damned if I know.” I answered. “I don’t care, I’m gonna hold on to this seat and I’m not gonna let go. Fuck food even. At least now I can sleep the rest of the way.”
“Something’s wrong, man.”
Something was wrong. The coach had been too thoroughly evacuated. I now noticed that even the old crates and cartons and bags and dilapidated suitcases were gone. There were only two guys left on the train. They were not passengers. They were looking at us with great gleaming grins on their fat faces. They spoke to us.
“Lucas, do you know any Spanish at all?”
“No man, I’m trying to learn but I haven’t gotten too far.”
The guys kept pointing to the door. I looked out the window at everyone bustling around, eating tortillas and burritos, drinking beer and coffee. All happy as pigs in shit, all knowing just what was going on.
What was going on was a change of trains, new combinations of coaches headed in new directions. We had to leave this train, leave our treasured seats and go through the whole thing again.
“Let’s be on it this time.” said Lucas.
We grabbed our stuff and stepped out onto the red Mexican soil. The smell of food filled the air, burritos slapped you in the jaw, quesadillas came over and pricked your nostrils, and coffee pervaded the air like an irresistible perfume.
There wasn’t much there - the station and the desert that was laid out on its back behind it, a whole country sitting fat and unknown. One step out there was the end of me, I thought. The trains would be gone, my stuff gone, Lucas gone, even the tracks and the station gone!
I got a cup of coffee and a burrito.
Up until now Lucas and I had stuck together, but now we drifted apart.
“Hey,” I said, “I’m going to go take a leak. Don’t get too far away, OK?”
I picked my way across the tracks, across little piles of stale shit and piss, decomposed toilet paper, tampons, over to a little clump of brush. A small swath of ground separated me from the village. I pulled out my pecker and pissed and stared off into the little town. What was life like here?
Just then a beautiful girl came into the picture. She strolled from one little hovel making her way across the dusty road towards another little hovel. She was beautiful. The fine chiseled noble Indian features, raven black hair streaming all the way to her ass, her body moving slow and sinuous like a snake; she was a goddess here in a forgotten dirt town and whistle stop on a forsaken route. I went two steps toward her, three drops of urine falling on my shoe, then I stopped. Should I stay here? I wondered. Stranded and lost in an entirely different life? Just let that train fly on and abandon myself to an Indian goddess, bury myself in an alien world; to hell with America and Americans! To hell with everything my parents ever taught me, drilled into me, maybe this would be far enough to shuck off that cocoon they’d tried to smother me with. They’d never hear from me again. Where did he go? Who knows? Gone! Lost in the desert. He was crazy my friends would say. They’d wonder why I’d passed up on all those great things they all enjoyed...stupid jobs...dull routine...down to the bar and back...pick up a chick here, pick up a chick there...phony dancing to phony bar bands...a social life... a nagging wife...a pile of useless responsibilities hanging around their necks as they walked around with their tongues to the ground, their beauty and freedom caged in the kennels of their minds.
Fuck those hung-up motherfuckers, those Americans, those respectable little pricks, those phony little know-it-alls, those hip snots. Fuck that, I thought, how drab.
A loud toot from the train pulled me right back into the real world. I’d been there for quite awhile. I turned to see the different cars being jockeyed around every which way. It was like a huge game of musical chairs. Suddenly the thought of the train leaving without me scared the shit out of me.
I made my way back, looking for Lucas. He seemed to be some sort of handle for me, the only person I could talk to. I was a coward and he kept me from standing up to my own awkwardness and fear of the unknown that I resolutely headed for. Times like this you were glad to be with anybody, any fool or freak would do.
Lucas was not to be seen.
The village lived off this train stopping here. The people had poured out to sell enchiladas, geegaws, sombreros, tamales, shawls. There wasn’t a trace of the phony respectability I’d seen all my life. They were scavengers but they breathed real air, not stale farts. I wandered among the people, among the stands and tables; I was ectoplasm. I couldn’t talk to anyone, I drifted by it all like a ghost, apart. I sat down on a step of one of the trains and pulled out the Spanish-American dictionary.
Comer...hungry...denaro...money...¿Que heure es?...what time is it?...po quito...a little bit...
As I looked back up the tracks at the village and the little clot of people and at the trains as they were being moved around, backed up, pushed forward, locked together, taken apart, I realized I didn’t even know which one to get on. There didn’t seem to be any sense in it all.
Just then Lucas came up.
“Hey, there you are, man! Where ya been? I been looking all over for you.”
“Trying to learn some Spanish. It just occurred to me that I don’t even know how the fuck to ask what train to get on.”
“No problem, man. It’s that one on the left. I asked a conductor.” He shrugged his shoulders, snapped his fingers, he had the whole situation under control.
“He speak English?”
“Naw, I know a little Spanish.”
“I thought you didn’t.”
“Yeah, I know a little.”
I didn’t trust his info. I looked at the train on the left. The crowd was starting to clamor aboard, the train was sucking the people off the platform, eating them up. It was time to make a move, but which move? The train on the right was filling up as quickly as the one on the left. They were both headed in the same direction.
“Come on, man!”
I followed Lucas but just before we got to the train I saw a conductor. I stepped high getting over to him.
“Which train to Mazatlan?”
He shrugged, smiled and looked dumb, sly-dumb. “No comprende Anglais.” He turned and walked off.
“No, no, wait! Mazatlan, Mazatlan! Si? Which way? Train?” I pointed to a train, did the old choo-choo along the tracks, puffed out my cheeks, pulled the old whistle! What an imitation! “Mazatlan! Which train?” I pointed to one train, “Mazatlan?” then to the other, “Mazatlan?”
He loved the train act. He stood there smiling, wanting more, saying nothing.
I stepped on along. By now I’d lost Lucas again. That was alright. I was sure that that guy was headed the wrong way. He’d end up a thousand miles from nowhere, his black ass dragging the dirt trying to make it out of some hole. The only things he’d be writing would be “HELP” in the sand. Pitching notes in rusty Tecate cans off into mirages, poor guy.
I saw what I perceived to be a nice person, with a good, kind face.
“Mazatlan!” I said it with my index finger up to the sky, my eyebrows raised, like it too was a Shazam, Mazatlan and musician, they’d get me what I wanted. My eyes blazed out of my skull.
“No savvy, no savvy.” He beat it, looking back at me once or twice as he snaked through the crowd.
“Mazatlan!” I hissed to another decent looking sort.
He shrugged and looked around, here and there.
“Puerto Villarta.” he said, smiled and was gone.
The engines were steaming up by now. Things were getting tense with me. I wanted desperately to get to Mazatlan, I did not want to spend another day here, to hell with my Indian goddess! Nor did I want to spend another 13 hours on a milk crate going back to Mexicali. I only wanted to get to Mazatlan, to live in the lap of luxury in sunny Mazatlan, then I would think about a goddess and her village.
I caught a woman passing me. “Mazatlan!” I almost shouted. “Which train?” I choo-chooed it, chugged along like the real thing.
“That one.” she said, pointing to the one on the right. Lucas had been wrong! I hightailed it on over. I wanted a seat this time. I piled aboard, backpack slamming into the walls, guitar banging out an open E minor eleventh chord. I stumbled from one car to the next, down the line.
No seats! None!
This was tragedy. The ride ahead looked longer than life. All the cars were filled with the tawny golden faces, the racks cluttered with the busted cardboard boxes, the kids scrambling over everything; there wasn’t even a patch of bare seat to lay my hand on.
But then it happened. The laundry! Bags of it, clean sheets, pillowcases, piled in a corner. A mound of soft comforting white to settle into. I leaned the pack and guitar in a corner and spent the next five minutes arranging my seat, my bed, my home for the next two days. Then I settled in. It was beautiful! Who needed a seat? A dirty, grimy, torn-up seat that countless asses had sat on, farted on! For how many years? First it had been fat American asses farting everything from pizza to hamburgers to gumbo to chitlins to pate. Then all those Mexican asses breaking burrito wind, stale bean farts, jalapenos sizzling into the seat covers. No thanks! This was much better. Clean sheets, soft and warm! I couldn’t have asked for more. I just hoped the Federales or someone wouldn’t chase me off.
The train began to move, very slowly, but we were on our way. I looked out the window wondering how Lucas had fared. The other train was also moving, in the opposite direction. I sank into the sheets. It was damn comfortable!
Then I saw Lucas.
He was in the other train, in a seat in the other train, relaxed and confident in the other train, looking over at me in this train. I didn’t need to ask anyone, I knew I was on the wrong train.
I grabbed my stuff and leaped off the steps, skittered across the scrub toward my train. They all looked at the dumb gringo, watching me stumble and clank along, the wonderful new blue backpack coming apart, the knots easing open, the blankets and shirts snaking out towards freedom. I waved bye to them all.
In the new train they watched also as I chased them. They laughed and cheered me on, the hunch-back gimpy gringo! I high-stepped it as the train picked up speed. The whistle at the head of the train blew, the rhythm of the wheels picked up their tempo; I put on the gas. I grabbed the handle and swung onto the steps at the last possible moment, slamming the pack and guitar against the bulkhead.
I sat down next to Lucas.
“Somebody told me that was the train.”
“Shit.” he said.
Copyright © 2007 by Doug Downie. All rights reserved