I was alone in a second-class car on a train out of Madrid, bound for Barcelona. Yesterday I’d spent twenty minutes standing in front of Picasso’s Guernica, which was black and white like old war photographs and far larger than I expected. I was twenty years old. No painting could make me cry back then, at least on the outside.
It was springtime in Spain. Franco had died last fall after 36 years as dictator, which meant little to me till I saw Guernica. I couldn’t stop thinking about the painting.
The train stopped at some nowhere station. A short, scrawny man around sixty hesitated at the door of the compartment, then sat across from me by the window. I smiled and he smiled back.
There was a five-day beard on his sunken cheeks. He took a pack of Fortuna cigarettes from his shirt pocket and held it out to me.
“No, gracias.” That was about the extent of my Spanish, along with “Buenos días” and “Una cerveza, por favor.”
He shrugged and lit one for himself. He blew out foul-smelling smoke and made what seemed to be a friendly remark.
I knew one more thing in Spanish. “No hablo español,” I said apologetically.
He nodded. Easy math told me he was around twenty years old on April 26, 1937, the day Guernica was bombed. I wanted to ask—oh so carefully–about his life, what it was like to be twenty during a civil war rather than a college student traveling from across the ocean. I wondered if he had fought, and for which side. I wondered if he’d been to Guernica.
For many miles he smoked and I looked out the window, until without a word he touched my knee and left my life at another nowhere station.
“Nowhere Station” first appeared in Brilliant Flash Fiction, 2017.
IMAGE: vintage train, wallpaper
Tom Hazuka has published three novels, over sixty-five short stories and two books of nonfiction. His memoir, If You Turn to Look Back, will be published in 2023. He has edited numerous anthologies, including Flash Fiction, Flash Fiction Funny, Flash Nonfiction Funny, You Have Time for This, and Flash Nonfiction Food. He taught fiction writing for many years at Central Connecticut State University. Links to his writing and original songs are at tomhazuka.com.