Between snowflakes, sweat and fried meat

Translated from the original by Noah Myers

Disgusted by the bustle and the nastiness of people who, due to the sweltering heat, go around spreading stench, I decided to visit my cousin who lives in the outskirts of the city. I had fantasies of diving into a swimming pool and sprawling out under a beach umbrella with an ice-cold beer.

I don’t know how I managed to get to Grand Central Station on time. Apparently the trains make stops between stations right when one happens to be running late. Luckily I was traveling light: just my bathing suit, sandals, coin purse and a book in my bag. I got to the doors of the station at a trotting pace and I barely had time for a couple of breaths before the promised train arrived to take me away from this swarm of people. The doors opened, letting out a burst of fresh air that relieved my panting.

Once on board, I was fortunate enough to find a spot, because within seconds all the other seats disappeared beneath a wild variety of passengers. A tall man with bulging ears, whose face matched that of ET printed on his t-shirt, sat down across from me. Next to me, a chubby girl with a pleasant smell smiled at me before putting on her iPod headphones. I looked around trying to find the source of an intense, appetizing odor of something fried that pervaded the car. The aroma led my eyes across the thin aisle where an Indian man was sleeping against the window, alongside a guy with a computer in his lap punching keys like a concert pianist and an American couple sitting across from one another. I figured they must have been a couple because she gave him her purse and he held it in his arms the whole rest of the way. Meanwhile, the woman, who wore a white pant suit, piled up a series of boxes in the seat next to her, from which I supposed the delicious smell of grease and meat was coming.

Not everyone who got on was able to find seats, but the train took off and I took out the book I was planning to finish on the way. Snow was the name of the novel I opened just as I felt a drop of sweat slide its way down from the back of my neck to the hem of my panties. It was the story of a poet that seeks inspiration in a city buried beneath snow, faith and fanaticism. Between snowflakes and drops of sweat we reached 125th St. Station. There, a reckless young man lumbered on board with his bike, along with a woman pushing a pink stroller and numerous unremarkable subjects that made space for themselves in the aisles and entryways. The air pushed into my nasal passages and the heat intensified.

A young woman in green caught my attention, perhaps due to her parrot-colored dress, her wild flowing red hair or because, as soon as she could, she dropped a handbag and a leather purse on the floor that were both bulging at the seams. When the train sped up, she held onto the metal bars above the door between the cars like so many other standing passengers. I went back to my reading for a moment and then looked up at her again. Since she was looking down, I couldn’t see her face right then (though later, when she was yelling at the woman in the white pant suit, I would be able to see her huge eyes, bright like honey in the sunlight.) All I could see then was her mouth, which was biting down nervously.

Time rolled by slowly. As I read and looked over now and then at the girl in green, I began to feel sorry for her. You could tell she was uncomfortable as she moved her legs into different positions to accommodate her posture. Then she reached over to grab the handrail with her other arm and I could see how some of her curls of hair adhered to her face like dead larvae. She looked around and suddenly fixed her gaze on the boxes with the smell of fried meat piled in the seat within steps from her. She frowned and I heard her firm, imperative voice asking the woman in white if those boxes belonged to her. The latter had been oblivious, punching the tabs of her iPhone avidly (playing some game, it seemed), and only realized that the question was directed at her when her eyes met those of the girl pointing at the boxes stacked next to her.

“Yes. There are 100 meat pies,” the American woman answered slightly dazed.

“Would you be so kind as to put them on the floor so I can sit down?” the girl in green asked in a demanding tone.

“But they’re fresh out of the oven,” responded the woman in white. “Besides, we’re getting off in just 20 minutes.”

“I have 3 hours left to go!” the other shouted with her eyes open wide like a doorway. “There’s no way I’m going to stand here while your fresh-baked pies take up my seat!”

At that moment the guy who looked like ET offered his seat, but the girl ignored him and kept her fiery glare fixed on the woman in white who, with visible rage, began to place the boxes delicately, one by one, on the floor beside her.

“If it’s so much trouble, stand up and put the boxes in your own seat,” the girl in green concluded and, after turning to thank the guy with the ET face, she sat down next to the other woman without so much as turning to look at her. The companion of the woman in white didn’t say a word.

I lifted my book up to eyebrow level, but I couldn’t help but see the round face of the flowing-haired girl in green. At one point she turned to look at me, and I instinctively glanced off toward the window to see the trees darting past. I returned to my reading. When I began to feel the icy chill from the streets of the city of Kars taking over the train car, I looked again toward the two women. The one in green looked to be asleep. In contrast, the one in white was watching her boxes like a hawk each time the doors opened and other passengers changed places.

I’m not sure how much time went by because I was also nodding off until the brush of the chubby girl getting off brought my mind back to the sweaty, bustling train car. The girl in green, in less of a hurry, also got up and, after carefully gathering her bags and seconds before the doors closed behind her, raised her knee chest-high and unleashed all her force into a stomp that smashed the boxes and, had the woman in white not been agile, would have done the same to her hand. The women in white began to scream and curse. The aroma of fried food flooded into the car, and you could hear the guffaws of some passengers and the arbitrary commentaries from others, relentless like the heat. The companion of the woman in white didn’t say a word.

Spanish version previously published in El tragaluz del sótano, Cuentos. Artepoética Press.