I am away from home. Once more in that capital city in the sun.
My trip is part catharsis, part memorial.
No more do I have to brace myself to push his wheelchair, no more to search out lifts and ramps, no more the special assistance requests at the airport, no more 'entrada gratuita' for the carer. But, above all, no more do I have my partner to share the experiences. Only memories already made.
I knew I had to make the visit soon. Delay would have only made it harder.
Grief can be strange. There are times when I am overcome. Not the expected places where we had been together. Rather places we had not been before and I know he would have liked. The exception: seeing the house he lived in for a short while in his younger days which, well kept at our last visit, now looks neglected.
The trip is a new experience without the chair and with only me to please. So I am using the Metro and local trains much more and I can indulge that innocent pleasure he could not often share:
Watching Boys on Trains.
Smart-suited boys. Lonely nervous boys. Boys with mothers, brothers, sisters or sons. All sorts of boys. Boys of every age from seven to seventy-seven.
You know the game:
First find a space then instinct makes you look around for threats. You try to look as though you know the rules, not wanting to stand out in the crowd, not wanting to be the mark for those that prey on the unwary. Instinct satisfied, you take a more measured look around until your attention is caught. You watch, then let imagination start to work on what you see. Where is that person going? Why is that one travelling? Who are they texting? Who is that person? What makes them good looking? Are those two more than friends? It amuses you, enjoying the human scenery, making your journey more interesting.
So let my sport begin.
I take the escalator into the earth, catching a passing glimpse of that handsome man with briefcase heading for the surface and work. I claim my space on the platform and start to look around.
There. On the opposite platform, the one for trains for the University. A young man with a backpack; attractive in a homely way. I take a second longer look, alas cut short by the arrival of my train.
There are spaces enough for me to sit. The darkness of the tunnel allows study of the toothsome teen two along, reflected in the window opposite. For variety, I look at the thirty something with designer stubble standing sentinel at the doors. Would I like to see that beard on the pillow next to me in the morning? Would I get the chance? Of course not. But I can look and dream, it’s part of the game.
One mid-afternoon I head across town to a shop I know. It is not far so I perch on the misericord thoughtfully moulded into the door surround and look along the car. Two grinning boys, sharing some amusing tale, prop up the grab-pole between the next pair of doors. Mid-primary age, they are the epitome of cute. They make them that way here. Black hair, pert noses and deep brown eyes you dare not look into for fear of drowning your soul. Prettier than a china doll, prettier than their sisters by a country mile. At the next stop a gabble of schoolgirls in white blouses and blue plaid skirts fills the carriage and I lose sight of my giggling boys.
The evening rush is underway but I find a seat. Tired, I stare absently at the floor in front of me. My attention is drawn by a pair of legs stepping past to stand in a vacant space nearby. My gaze follows those legs, clad in grey washed-out skinny jeans complete with knee tears, upwards to get a view of their owner. A good looking lean young man perhaps eighteen. His attire has a studied shabbiness, a come-hither look. Almost trade but too mannered, too clean. He seems nervous; maybe he is on the game. Perhaps his first night! Would I buy? No, but I find myself wanting to take him home to keep him off the street. He is joined by another, besuited and apparently a few years older. As they talk, the younger man relaxes. Is the other a pimp offering words of encouragement or are they just good friends on a night out?
It is market day in a nearby town and I know from previous visits there are bargains to be had. Mission accomplished, I board my train to return to the city. A pair of handsome guys, fit, mid-twenties, sit opposite each other in the bay across the aisle from me, the sun behind them. They are dressed the same except for slight differences of shade and brand. They have the same haircut and incipient receding hairline. I am fascinated. Allowing that I see opposite profiles, they look the same. I take furtive glances so they don't think I am staring at them. Each relaxed in the company of the other, they even have similar mannerisms. Are they identical twins or cloned lovers? I cannot decide. I do know that if they offer a threesome, I will have to decline. I do not have the required avidité.
Standing room only again, so I take position in the circulating area by the doors. A family is already there: a couple with two young sons. Mamá is in charge of the younger boy in his buggy, thankfully one of the smaller varieties. There are subtle signs they are not regular users of the Metro en-familleand the older boy, five or six, is clearly unhappy. There is an explosive hiss from the compressed air system. The boy jumps and clutches Papá. Terrified, the boy’s tears begin. Papá struggles to comfort him. The whole experience is overwhelming. The whistles before the doors close, the rumble as they do, the rattles and bangs of the train in the confined space of the tunnel, the floor of the car moving beneath his feet upsetting his balance. I cannot hear his pleas to his Papá. I have no need. His frightened squirms are enough for me to tell he has had to play the trump card – ‘I need a wee!’ Poor kid. I sympathise with him. I was just the same at his age and would jump at any loud noise. I was scared to death of the clowns at the circus with their backfiring car and slapstick humour and would duck down and hide behind the seats in front. Here the boy has nowhere to hide. Unwilling to risk an accident, the parents agree to bail out at the next station. I am in no doubt it is not their intended stop. As Mamá manoeuvres the buggy the younger boy, unfazed by the train, can see me so I give him a little wave, hoping for a smile. What do I get? A look that says ‘I know you are there, but if you don’t mind, I’m too exhausted to reply’. Save that look, kiddo. You’ll need it again when you are a teenager.
Sunday I investigate a far flung tentacle of the Metro. There is a museum railway there, the rump of a narrow gauge system, the rest having been rebuilt for the Metro. It is a place for families to have a day out so there are boys of all ages there, including more of those cuties that make me wish I had children of my own.
There is one family there on a boys’ pass out: son, father and grandfather. No distaff side. No need for manly decorum. All boys together enjoying the sights and sounds of the little steam train. And who is enjoying it the most, face filled with boyish glee? The boy of seventy of course!
Story & Photograph: Copyright © Pedro 2017