Following a little family down the long walkways of Terminal One to reach Terminal Two and the mouth of the subway, I kept seeing how the little girl held tight to her mother’s hand and how the little boy held his father’s. She was scarved and wore a baby close against her chest. On the other side of the glass stood a queue of twenty-five-year-olds waiting to board our flight back to Berlin.
The Metro ticketing machine offered little flags: press which language you want. I put “Spanish,” because I am stubborn. The trains are suffocatingly heated. People kept climbing on board to beg or to busk. The four men from the Andes with their squat amp and teensy guitars, held high on their chests the way you’d nurse a machine gun or maybe a baby; people looked annoyed at the racket but I gave them some money thinking, these guys are only here at all because Spain built ships, and crossed all the way the world and found their Country, and stole millions and killed millions. Now with their long obsidian hair and their colourful backpacks and their Pan flutes they are back bringing a little music into everyone’s commute: an unfair and gracious exchange.
A man whose face has been eroded by what looks like an acid attack came holding out his two stumps of hands palm upwards, smiling and wheedling. A man whose right foot is crushed and slanted made his way painfully down the carriage, telling his story and asking… for bread, there was a young man beautifully upright in his wheelchair and begging and a Caribbean man playing joyous reggae and all of this happened in between airport and town.
I dragged my suitcase and changed trains twice. The driver came out his side door when I climbed out at Manuel Becerra saying, something something something descapacitado… seeing my expression he gestured, unmistakeably, repeating himself very slowly: the disabled staircase (an emphatic sweep of one arm) is reached by dismounting on the other side of this train: and I looked, and sure enough the doors on both sides were open. “Gracias,” I told him, struggling with my suitcase and box of books back across the open carriage in which everybody stared, “Muchas gracias” – how amazing that he should care. In the next train a man gazed and gazed. Another man next to me was reading the National Geographic in Russian. I bought, very carefully, something to eat from the man running his glass-front stall, and he taught me a new word to add to my existing Spanish stock of two (“por” and “favore”). Something something some? “Non hablo espanol,” I hazarded, awkwardly. He said it again with gestures: “caliente?” Blowing on his pursed fingertips to show how it was hot. Oh, did I want it heated? “Por favore.” He went on, helpfully: “friore” (I think) means “cold.” “Muchas gracias.” It just amazes me how people living in an ancient city awash with lenses can be so welcoming and go out of their way to be kind to a person who clearly knows nothing of their country and speaks barely one word: god love them for that. So far Spanish people are wonderful. Though it also made me proud that I found my way using a photo I had taken off google maps in Berlin at 5am from the Metro stop to my hotel without asking help of anyone. It was raining and I arrived wet and splashy. At the corner across from some huge splendid palace a car swept past drenching me and another man in rainwater and we shrugged at each other, smiling, starting to laugh. The “caliente” man gave me a little receipt with my 2€ pastie and I picked up off his counter another receipt, left by another customer, which had been folded into a boat shape, or perhaps a hat; I slipped it into my pocket and will take it home – all the way home to Australia, if necessary.