Snapshot: A Train Ride Through Barcelona


The rain seeps into every crease of the train platform, and, from there, into the tourists’ shoes. This train is headed from Barcelona to Montserrat, a monastery wedged between mountains about an hour northwest of the city.  People squeak their way down the train aisle, fumbling for the limited number of seats.

Woe to the latecomers who have to sit by  strangers, rearranging backpacks as to not bother their seatmates with contact of foot to luggage. The overpolite graciousness of public transportation brings those not following these unspoken rules into the spotlight.

One such person paces down the aisle, shoes squeaking just like everybody else. Out of his messenger bag, he sets gum and a packet of tissues on each person’s table. Complimentary? No, underneath the goodies, a slip of paper explains his need for money so that he can support his son. The message is in both English and Spanish and includes a picture of him and his young son. Seconds later, the man squeaks back down the train, collecting the goodies from the tables. He is not begging, talking or even making eye contact, like he is embarrassed.

The tourists are quick to reciprocate that sentiment: even those few who hand him a euro or two don’t meet his eye. They smile at the ground, but the smile is more of an embarrassed grimace. One passenger who does not catch this embarrassment-flu is a perfectly beautiful girl moodily staring into the rain-streaked glass. It is hard to tell if she is watching the scenery or staring at her own reflection.

The way she pouts her perfect lips and fixes her perfectly curled bangs makes it evident that it is the latter. Her mom, a not quite as perfectly preserved version of her daughter, sits adjacent and applies pink lipstick in the mirror of a small compact. The girl switches from fixing her bangs in the window to the more accurate mirror of her phone. Her mom leans in to check her lipstick there as well.

The primping, which looked arbitrary, now seems to have a purpose. The pair smiles softly into the phone, where it is clear the screen is now in selfie mode. Their heads tilt this way and that snapping shot after shot. After a few minutes of this, the older woman takes out her own camera and motions for her daughter to pose next to the backdrop of the rain spattered window.

The vogueing begins. The girl pouts and lilts from every angle and in every light, with her mother acting as both her hype woman and photographer. The shoot ends when the daughter’s phone starts buzzing, and she quickly pops in headphones to answer the call. Her mother leans in waving at the camera delightedly, and then goes back to her seat opposite her daughter, making kissy faces that only her daughter can see. The daughter rolls her eyes but smiles at her mom.

As the train rolls into the station, the girl hangs up and wraps her headphones around her phone, the passengers start gathering up their belongings and bundling themselves in raincoats, the man with the messenger bag counts coins in his hand and they all step off the damp train and into the even damper day.

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