Xavi got a new job. It was a good job, and all was right in the world.
But he was in a hurry.
There are several key elements in a successful life as an expatriate on hiatus, one of which is organizing a daily schedule which neither overworks nor leaves too much time for frivolous waste. Lately, he was booking himself a little tight and spending too much money. A failure on both accounts.
He rushed onto the metro and found a spot that didn’t require him to place his ass centimeters away from an innocent, sitting passenger with self-respect. It was good metro Karma. But the car quickly filled up, and after the sound of the beep and just before the closing doors, a woman, perhaps just 10 or 15 years too old for him, rushed on board and squeezed into the only remaining spot available. She stood approximately 5 centimeters from Xavi’s face, and she looked up at him and smiled. She had a warm face with a lot of lines from laughter and painful life experience. He expected that she would turn around once she was settled, since surely the anything happening out the passing window was more interesting than the contours of Xavi’s face at close range. But she did not turn around. He sighed and counted in his head how many stops of mild discomfort he had until the dreaded Diego de Leon station.
To refresh his memory of the route, Xavi looked up at the helpful illustrated maps above the doors of the metro car, but the one directly in front of him was expectedly useless, as it was a map of another line. Those maps are always a map of another line going in another direction, on another track. He then glanced at the woman and he noticed the she was looking down and adjusting the switches on a small portable amplifier on wheels. Then she took out a microphone and looked up at Xavi with wide, brown eyes. The space between their faces had narrowed to approximately 1 centimeter. She turned a switch somewhere on the amplifier and began playing strange, canned music that reminded him of a 1980’s Soviet anthem. She began to sing. It was like Xavi and this woman were the only people on the metro, but he could also feel the stares of the other passengers as she embarked headlong on her aural romantic adventure. It was all very loud too, and for Xavi, there was absolutely nowhere to look except deep into her eyes, with the occasional glance at her bright red lipstick and microphone. The microphone touched his chin, twice, as the metro jostled and made turns.
To the best of his recollection, the song lasted 46 minutes, and it was sung with feeling and with facial contortions that would make Pavarotti look like Steven Wright. When the song ended, the woman came out of her trance, as she had trained herself to do, and looked up at Xavi, again. He looked back at her, and raised his eyebrows with a look that said, “Well? …Right…”. She then pulled out a small purse, opened with a few coins, and she shook it lightly in front of his chest. Xavi panicked. It hadn’t occurred to him that she probably wanted to get paid for spilling her soul all over the metro car at 5:30 in the afternoon. He then shook his head and lightly tapped his pockets in a gesture meant to effectively demonstrate his own poverty. But as he hit his pockets, both the woman and Xavi, as well as a child standing next to them who was strangely interested in the whole episode, could plainly hear the sound of change jingling, change that was waiting to be spent on a pack of gum or a small plate of croquetas. Xavi was sure that she could even tell which coins were in his pockets just by the sound. Her face fell limp and lost color, but her eyes remained looking up. A good time to give something to the woman, one may wonder? Perhaps a normal, functioning member of a developed society would answer yes. As the metro slowed, though, there was the familiar beeping sound and the doors opened, and Xavi remained standing, motionless, like a lobotomized sloth. She then turned around, and walked off the metro with a disappointment she undoubtedly felt several times a day.
Disgusted with himself, and music, and public transportation, he slowly walked off the metro car. He looked over and saw that the woman was walking onto another car, her amplifier in tow, and passengers looking down to avoid eye contact. The song remained in his head, and the chorus played in a loop in that maddening way a commercial jingle strangles the consciousness and threatens a man’s sanity.
Now fresh from breaking a random elderly woman’s heart, Xavi found himself standing amongst the busied crowd at the metro station Diego de León, a terrible place of pain and misery. The station is a sprawling monstrosity encompassing somewhere between 165 and 395 square kilometers. It boasts 68 exits and 437 million kilometers of walkway. He glanced at his watch and was relieved to see he had plenty of time to get to his next class. He took a deep breath and began to walk briskly.
But as he walked through a corridor, events began to take a turn for the worse. He noticed a man standing against the wall, who seemed to be dressed like Satan, complete with scales, tail and horns, juggling 2 dead cats and a chainsaw, and laughing a menacing laugh that made the passing children cry. Then, a man that smelled like curry and wet dog walked up to him and tried to sell him a giant pair of pastel green sunglasses, and followed him, pulling on his sleeve. And there was another musician playing My Heart Will Go On with a Peruvian flute. A man walking past him was yelling into his cellphone in either pidgin English or Elvish and there was a clown, 1,98 m tall and naked from the waste down, who came up to him and vomited on the floor at his feet. The imposing fluorescent light above him was buzzing and flickering, and he then noticed a woman falling to the ground, probably from exhaustion or perhaps shear fear, passersby stepping over her with little notice. A one-eyed dog came up to him an pissed on his shoe and Xavi kicked it away with surprising ease. In a corner there was a pot-bellied pig sitting on a giant crepe and smoking opium out of a corn-cob pipe. He began to walk briskly, following the green signs that read salida. The escalators were broken, and the crowds of people packed into the stairways, some tripping and getting their legs caught in the strands of yellow caution tape. There was screaming and the sound of ripping clothes.
He had to get out of there.
After what seemed like a half-marathon of walking through white-tiled passageways and milky artificial light, Xavi finally found a door with sunlight struggling to pass through. He walked toward it, and he opened the door, and he was met with a fresh breeze from the street above.
Xavi stood at the top of the stairs, the familiar city sounds of car horns and pedestrians comforting him, and he closed his eyes and took a breath. But as he opened his eyes and looked around he felt that something was wrong. There was a strange heaviness in the air, like there had been a years-long, slow infection of social malaise and oppression. He turned his head and noticed a newsstand and picked up a newspaper. He felt as if in a dream, and found himself strangely objective about his situation. He read the cover of El País and saw that it was 2 April, 1972. Franco was still dubbing movies. People were smoking indoors. Catalán was illegal. He was late for class.
He did not allow himself the time to analyze the scenario, and he dropped the newspaper and rushed back down the stairs and again swung open the doors. He bought another ticket and slid it through the turnstile, and found a corner to stand in. He was afraid. He opened his metro map and found where to go, and then he made a dash for it.
It was then that he realized that he was the only person in the hallway. There were no musicians, no other travelers, no vomiting clowns. Now he felt a different kind of fear, one of isolation and desperation. He found his metro stop and waited for it to arrive. It was then that an old woman shuffled around the corner and sat next to him on the bench. She had a plate full of freshly baked sugar cookies and offered one to him. They were pink and had multi-colored sprinkles on them.
“Would you like to know something about your future?” she asked.
“Ok,” Xavi said. There was a long silence. A metro could be heard stopping in another station through the tunnel. They stared at each other.
“Well?” she asked.
“Will I find love in Madrid?” Xavi asked.
“I can only tell you what you already know.”
“I don’t know that.”
“Well, that’s stupid.”
“You should respect your elders,” she said. Her eyes narrowed and she yanked the cookie from his hand.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“Give me a euro, I need a drink.”
The metro slid into the stop as the old woman continued to explain how she liked her vodka tonic prepared. Xavi got up and ran to the door and pulled up the switch that always takes too long to work. He expected the woman to follow him. But when he turned around, he only saw a miniature greyhound, wearing a pink fedora and sitting on the bench, next to the plate of sugar cookies.
The remaining metro ride was remarkably uneventful, and he sat down and tried to reflect on the upcoming lesson of English grammar and conversation. But he was completely distracted and unfocused. After all, he may have just been served pastries by a dog. The metro came to a stop. He got out and walked up the stairs to the street, and it was then that he decided that he needed to use the toilet.
As he walked quickly away from the station, he stopped by a café, and slipped into the bathroom as the man behind the bar stared at him.
Inside, the room was small and the floor was covered in water and bits of toilet paper. He noticed a long black hair in the sink and a swastika written with a marker on the paper towel dispenser. The room was situated in a way that required the desperate user to face a door without a lock whilst pissing and allowing, or rather forcing, the next lucky person to walk through the door a full view of the event at hand. Xavi thought of how me would explain the schematics of the bathroom to someone later, over a beer in a bar, but he merely decided it was something like an MC Escher painting that smelled like piss and hand soap.
Xavi walked in, and after finally finding the light switch on the outside, he closed the door. It was then that the light turned of with a click, and he found himself standing in the dark with his pants unzipped. He sighed. And then as expected, someone opened the door suddenly, the sound of music and loud conversation spilling into the room.
…to be continued..