The carriages and hallway were hot. The sun beat down on the metal roof of the train shuttling with jolting abandon through Spain. The only way to get some cool air, other than what blew through from the hallway windows and out the carriage windows when the tracks hit a curve was to go to the hall, lean out of the window there. But that was touching your forearms to the blistering heat of the sills; I took along a towel, rested my forearms on that. The only mercy, and it was just a chance of one was, the air was dry, dry, dry. We’d left the coast and its easy, brief rains, were on our way to the border. The Côte d’Azur. I didn’t think I’d be up to rubbing elbows with movie stars; I’d had enough trouble trying to get
acquainted with the star personalities in my teenage group.

I was alone, that was it. I’d made few friends, was the sort who always felt alone. And that had been okay; I got out on my own, had visited without language in Madrid and Barcelona, relying on such citizens that knew any English or French. Once reaching France, it’d be my turn to talk to people more, not that of the Spanish-studying students, in their glory now. I’d explored, been friendly and approachable, done my best to be representative. Usually, alone.

We’d had cool things to drink, some unusual snacks. The train routes through Europe went past little stores and ordinary vendors ran to the train when it stopped, to reach things up for sale to the railway patrons.

At one of these stops, while the others were getting snacks, I looked farther out, bored. I saw a group of young men, standing, not looking at the train, one of them sitting astride a brand-new looking bike. He was holding court among his friends, showing off his new possession. They all laughed, were happy to admire him. He was handsome, lithe, lean, a curly mop of black hair falling to his collar, gracing his forehead. And he was so happy.

After a minute or two, his friends checked watches, conferred, looked at the train, went off together. He sat alone on his mount, finally glancing my way. On an impulse, an impulse unusual, but born from isolation and a swift moment of joy because he was so handsome, I stuck an arm out the window and waved, speaking pidgin, whether he would understand or not, “J’admira votre bicycle!” He laughed, maybe understood; he waved. Another impulse came. I raised my camera, leaned out the window, took his picture. His bicycle was only a pretext; he had become the essential Spain to me, and I was leaving for France. So handsome that I loved him, he posed; I snapped another photo. Then, lifting a hand again, he slung the bike around and rode off. France was approaching, but now I was in love with the essence of Spain.