High Speed Life

I hoisted our duffle bag up on top of the roller suitcase, took a deep breath, and started off toward the airport terminal. Thankfully we weren’t flying, just returning a rental car and then taking the subway to the train station. If be spared that nightmare (the nightmare of flying) for another four days. Together the two bags were pushing 40 kilograms. And I had a backpack. We really need to learn to travel lighter. But six weeks is a long time. And there was nothing we could in the moment anyway. So it fell to me to haul the bags. And haul the bags I did. It’s three subway transfers from Barajas airport to the Renfe train station. We went up and down escalators, up and down stairs, and up and down elevators. We shoved into subway cars and wrestled ourselves free of them. Finally, we arrived. And of course, then we waited. I was hot, tired, and in a terrible mood.

I wish airline boarding was as quick and efficient as boarding the highspeed train. Hundreds of people went from waiting in the terminal to boarding and settling their luggage to the train departing the station in about 15 minutes.

I heaved our 40 kilogram dead weight up the steps and put the two bags on the baggage rack at the entrance. As we entered the passenger car, I noticed how the seats were arranged. There were two on each side of the aisle, most of which facing forward, but in some spots, two of the forward-facing seats had been turned around to face the two seats behind them with a table in the middle, forming a grouping of four, assumably for those traveling with more than two in their party.

Please, let us have two forward-facing seats not in a group of four I thought. Our seats were at the far end of the car, enough time for the tension within to build. Sure enough, seats 4C and 4D made up to seats of a group of four. Yay. A man and what appeared to be guys teenaged daughter had already taken their seats across the table that separated us.

I dropped my backpack into the aisle seat, pulled out my Kindle, slid the backpack into the space overhead, and heaved the smaller roller suitcase that Laura was carrying next to it. I fell into my seat by the window, and Laura sat down next to me. I figured I was probably an open, oozing sore of antipathy. Surely if the two sitting across the table had any sort of internal thermometer of others’ feelings, they’d sense my general unpleasantness. I felt bad about that, but there was nothing I could do. I guess I’d just have to comfort myself with the fact that I felt more unpleasant than I looked. I figured if I could lose myself in my book, the time would go by faster, and maybe the people sitting across from us would understand I didn’t want to talk. So, without so much as greeting the two eternal human souls across from me, I opened my Kindle and began cranking through the sentences as fast as my brain could process them.

But you can’t not look, right? People are the most incredible works of art in the universe, and you can only ignore a work of art that’s staring you in the face for so long. So I stole glances here and there.

The dad was maybe in his forties, with short, graying hair and a blue button up shirt with flowers on it. His daughter was maybe 15 and had braces. Her eyes were brown, her coverall shorts were white, and a her shirt was yellow. They whispered to each other as the train flew across the dry Spanish countryside and laughed.

I buried myself more deeply in my book.

The sense of contentment they exuded intensified my own ache.

The train stopped at a station several stops before ours, and they got off. I noticed they only carried a backpack off the train. I could only think of the 40 kilograms waiting for us in our bags when it came around to our stop.

Why those seats? Why those people?

I’ll never see you again, and you’ll never read this, but to the man in the blue flowery shirt and his daughter with the white coverall shorts, you weren’t invisible to me on that train ride from Madrid to Tarragona. You were more in value to me than the yellow checkered seats or the overhead reading lights. I didn’t reduce you to part of the internal decoration of the train. I saw you. I just couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge you. If I ever see you again, don’t assume I’m as much of a jerk as I came across. I was just having a rough day. And I have this special knack for turning my bad days into Laura’s bad days. It’s like I’ve got a freakin’ PhD in it. I’m that good. So the next time we sit across from you on a train from Madrid to Tarragona, I’ll say hello. I won’t turn the table between us into a lead wall. And if we don’t ever cross paths again, which I’m sure is how things will actually turn out, may God’s grace flow in tidal waves over your lives and over mine.

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