Taking the train from Lisbon to Madrid, 2009



The trip to Madrid begins with the train from Apolonia Station in Lisbon. I successfully found the right line, coach and seat. It didn’t appear to be full and by the time we left, I had established that no one in my car spoke more than a few words of English. Most were Spanish speakers. The train left at 10:30pm and the ticket collector was very officious and spent a tremendous amount of time reviewing each ticket and checking off a series of lists on a clipboard. Once he was gone, my plan was to sleep until Madrid.

Or that was my plan. I had taken 2 melatonin, donned earplugs and eye shades, so it took awhile for the yelling to bring me fully conscious. And what yelling!  I awoke to two men calling each other names and posturing in the aisle less than 3 yards from me. One was larger and more aggressive, very cocky. The other was smaller and wore a wool cap over his close cropped hair. Their profanity was creative and spanned several languages. I really thought this was all it would be. Eventually one would back down and suffer injury to his male vanity and that would be that. But the cocky guy backed the wool cap guy into a corner and slapped him. Just for a second, everyone held their breath. In The States, slapping is something beauty queens do, prelude to a girlfight. I had only read about it, but even I knew it was much worse than an insult here, akid to spitting on someone. Wool Cap lost his composure, closed his eyes and began swinging like a child on the playground. By the smile on his face, this was what Cocky was hoping for. Fists began to fly, but before they got too many punches in, four train officials came to break it up.

The official in charge looked like a Spanish Danny DeVito—short, broad chested and arrogant in a classic Napoleon Complex kind of way. This is when the more productive yelling began—at least for me—because I could pick up a few words. Money was missing, 100 Euro, though I didn’t know whose. Despite the fight, it wasn’t Mr. Cocky’s money. Also a small Asian man was missing his electronic device, though after 10 minutes of questioning no one could determine if it was an Apple phone or an iPod. When no one has a common language, they quickly move to English, which puts them all at the same disadvantage. Bonus for me. Unproductive for them.

Spanish DeVito ordered a brawny young attendant to hold Wool Cap down on the ground. Something was wrong with his ticket and they may have said that he had a prison record. There were references to his buzz cut and that this proved he was a thief. He had been pronounced guilty, but where was the money?  DeVito began at the front of the car and questioned everyone, asking to go through baggage. It was clear that if you refused, he did not have the right to force you, but he would make it quite uncomfortable. I couldn’t understand him, but I started to open my purse for him to look through. My bag was locked in back and frankly I didn’t have much with me to steal. But the couple in the seat beside me explained to me that I had not once left my seat and was sleeping since we left the station. I was happy to be ignored. There was a plastic bag in the overhead ledge that no one claimed and DeVito snatched it and went through it. It was suspicious, though I couldn’t understand why, since it didn’t hold the missing money or electronic device. He confiscated it. And then DeVito pounced on the man sitting nearest the bag. The man was being suspiciously quiet and he had not been seated there when I fell asleep. He was also Italian, smallish, with glasses and frankly he did look guilty. He acted guilty. Or it may have been that his Spanish wasn’t very good. The Italian screamed that he was being persecuted and refused to let them go through his bag. He kept saying that the plastic bag had not been his, but he clutched his messenger bag in his arms as though it held his life.

DeVito pronounced him guilty, though I don’t know on what grounds. He stood in front of the Italian and kept repeating that the police would pick him and Wool Cap up at the next station, at which point Wool Cap would let out a cry. Cocky kept egging the two prisoners on and DeVito encouraged it. At one point, Cocky grabbed the little Italian by the shoulders and pushed him against the wall threatening him with harm. The Italian squirmed and repeated he was being persecuted. Cocky actually head bumped Italian like this was an American Wrestling match. Or Soccer.

Finally we arrived at the next station and four policia boarded. They took Wool Cap away in handcuffs and dragged Italian by the arm—still clutching his bag. People were questioned, though only those who spoke Spanish. Someone pointed at me and said, “No Espanol.”  I was dismissed again. Happily.

After 30 minutes, we went on our way. I managed to get a bit more sleep before we rolled into Madrid late.


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I'm a professional vagabond. I quit my cubical job in January 2014. Since then, I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Camino, and taught English in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Mexico and Peru. I'm exploring the world and you can come too!

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