The Curve

The foreigner sometimes wonders: is there a west farther west than the far west. If yes: could the south of Madrid stand for it? Could, by any chance, in spite of the magnetic pointer of the compass, be the south of Madrid eerily westbound? That´s at least the feeling that gets hold of the foreigner each time he takes the suburban train in Atocha´s railway station towards Humanes. The railway line is the  C-5, starts in Móstoles-El Soto and ends in the town of Humanes. Humanes… Doesn´t just the mention of this name evoke a quality of mysterious remoteness? Humanes… Doesn´t the echo of its syllables reminds us of something human but perhaps beyond, not knowing exactly where the echo comes from and where is meant to go…Humanes… May be the name of a ghost town in which the muted cries of a living dead race of cowboys still claims that territory as its own, the word “cowboy” having  first appeared in the English language about 1715 as a direct English translation of vaquero, the Spanish term for an individual who managed cattle while mounted on horseback.” Buckaroo, moreover, another English word for a cowboy would be an anglicization of vaquero. A race of cowboys, then, coming from a farther west than the far west, just 27 km.southbound from Madrid.


Mendez Alvaro, Doce de Octubre, Orcasitas, Puente Alcocer, Villaverde Alto, Zarzaquemanda, Leganés, Parque Polvoranca, La Serna, Fuenlabrada, Humanes. Starting in Atocha eleven railroad stations in total till Humanes final destination. Under tunnels at intervals and in the open air most of the railroad stretch, the train clatters along the tracks as the sunbeams filter through its windows. The landscape the train rolls through is bathed by the sunlight and is made up of alternatively fields of yellow and withered weed and suburban concrete neighbourhoods. The foreigner´s eyes are protected from the scorching outside by the refreshing air-con of the coach and by its tinted windows. The foreigner ensconces in his seat and tries to amuse himself taking a look at the other passengers. He soon realizes that nothing in particular arouses his interest, nothing is there at hand to which his boredom can hold on: just common people, like him, waiting for their stop to come, foreigners, some of them, just like him. The train and the railway infrastructure in general provide enough comfort and accesibility to the traveller. Thus the foreigner finds himself isolated from what awaits him in the outside. As soon as he steps out of the train the first thing that strikes him is the suffocating heat, something he had forgotten about while he dozed in his musings. From that moment on the heat starts to make his armpits sweat and to leave a trace in his shirt that won´t diminish until he returns and takes comfort again in the fixtures and fittings of his compartment. Before getting off, anyhow, the foreigner becomes aware of the disturbing evidence that he is the only passenger left in the coach and that the rest of the passengers must have left the train in the previous stations. It is this fact rather than the loudspeaker´s announcement what in reality signs the foreigner´s arrival in the town of Humanes, Humanes most salient feature being the lack of humans. As he heads toward the station´s exist he finds the same well equipped station´s infrastructure although here somewhat purposeless- wider spaces, thicker pillars, higher ceilings-  if one takes into account the scarce number of people seen around. Once having chosen the right tripod turnstile gate among a row  from which it is difficult to ascertain the ones leading out of the station and the ones leading in, because, as it is, no one is either getting out nor in , the foreigner  turns the stainless steel bar with a sway of his right hip and finds himself finally in the open air of Humanes, breathing for the first time its thick air, the air of a place that gives the impression of a borderland as the last traces of Madrid´s urban areas vanish and broad plots of yellow and withered weed take the burning upper hand. Still, a few brick terraced houses hedge the entrance to the centre of the town. The foreigner makes his way to the town´s centre to find a bus stop. He walks along some shadowy streets that beginning in the railway station lead to a traffic light opposite the bus stop. He doesn´t see many signs of life along the sidewalk either: an arab mother covered in black cloth pushing a black pram, a city policeman craving to fine badly parked vehicles owned by improbable drivers, the piercing song of the cicadas at the top of the trees accompanying his stride. After two minutes walk the foreigner reaches a wider segment of the pavement fully surrendered to the sun and that means to stand for a sort of square. In it, two uninspiring bars with deserted terraces and a closed news kiosk. The foreigner passes by and waits for the traffic light to turn green. The bald patch in the centre of his head barely endures the wait under the sun. The foreigner feels as if some Indians warriors were cutting off his scalp. His face is pale and sweat drips from his forehead. Opposite him there´s the typical bus shelter: a flat top panel and timetable information on the window panels on its sides. He decides to cross the empty road despite the red light signal. He reaches the bus shelter and soothes his stinging scalp. He tries to elucidate the timetable diagram with its puzzling crossword of arrows, numbers and names. He gives quickly up. He knows that the colour of the bus is green whereas the tone of his face is now of a yellow pale.The foreigner has doubtless an overall gift for colours and their shades. That should be enough to be confident being green, besides, the colour of hope. The foreigner is naturally a hopeful person. He stays on his feet under the shelter waiting for the green bus to take him to a Polígono placed between the towns of Humanes and Fuenlabrada. The Spanish word “Polígono” refers in this context to an industrial park where generally a series of terraced warehouses are located. The foreigner muses briefly on this word. He translates it mentally into the English term “polygon”, he thinks about its meaning in English: a plane figure that is bounded by a finite chain of straight line segments closing in a loop to form a closed chain or circuit.”


He is about to have a guess at any possible relation between the meaning of the word in the two languages when the bus arrives. He gets onto it and remains standing up during the five stops that takes the bus to get to the industrial park or Polígono. Were it not for the driver´s presence the bus would be empty. Nonetheless he´s reluctant to take a seat and remains on his feet next to the exit door, as if telling himself that in that no man´s land he´s diving in the possibility of flight should never be completely discarded. The driver seems to grimace while he looks at him in his rear-view mirror. The foreigner recognizes him as a nasty deadbeat he forced to pay off a debt some years ago. He dodges the bus driver´s eyes and looks out the bus´s window. He sees old brick terraced warehouses, some of them abandoned, many with “to let” or “to sale” signs hanging on their façades, also derelict industrial plots and, scattered along the way, night clubs and saloons, some tawdry marisquerías, papier maché buildings where seafruit is offered to visitors and where the spanish lower middle and working class families that live in these surroundings are keen on celebrating their children´s communions and weddings happily overlooking the fact that this once in a lifetime lavishness can entail a massive intoxication due to potentially unhealthy prawns with mayonnaise and other native area shellfish. The foreigner reflects, with a pinch of jealousy, on how unconscious sometimes people are. He drops this chain of thoughts because he ´s suddenly conscious that he has to press the stop button unless he wants to miss his bus stop and swallow further the driver´s bloodthirsty grimaces. He presses the button with his forefinger, the bus driver brakes as powerfully as he can and looks, this time laughing, in his rear-view mirror. The foreigner staggers violently, keeps finally his balance, and flees the bus just before its doors are closed rapidly behind him. Just opposite the bus shelter´s sidewalk where he lands the foreigner sees the “polígono” with the terraced warehouse he intends to visit. He crosses at the zebra crossing and finds himself quickly in front of the warehouse´s entrance. He knocks the roller shutter with his knuckles. Mimon opens him. Mimon is Mahomet´s dependable man. Mahomet is the son of the company´s owner and runs in Spain his father´s business. He is the one who signed the lease contract and decides about rental and payroll payments The company deals with used clothes. To a great extent they buy them through commissioners but they also collect them by means of containers that they put in different collection points throughout Madrid and its outskirts. They manufacture these containers in a sort of improvised workshop in the rented warehouse. Some workers are handling blow torches with welding helmets in the midst of a cloud of sparks. Once the merchandise arrives, they sort the usable clothes from the useless ones and they pile and pack the first in well fastened packages meant to fill a truck and to be dispatched to the spanish border city of Melilla where moroccan women are in charge of crossing the border carrying the packages on their backs to the neighbour city of Nador. Both Mimon and Mahomet come from this city. Whereas Mimon is nice, helpful and somewhat garrulous, Mahomet is rather diffident. The foreigner has come to the warehouse to be paid three month rent arrears. “Time is tough”, Mimon tells him, “People don´t throw away their worn out clothes like in the past. Besides, summer has set in very late this year. That´s why we´ve had to put together this workshop to manufacture containers. If the clothes don´t come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the clothes” remarks Mimon jokingly. The foreigner cracks a smile, gets paid back in cash and shakes hands with Mimon and Mahomet. As he says goodbye and turns his back on them he can´t prevent his nose from smelling burning cloth coming from the industrial unit but he shrugs his shoulders, presses the pockets of his trousers, squeezes the cash in them and, feeling thirsty, thinks it´s time to go to the  Poligono´ saloon to give himself a treat. The name of the saloon is “The Curve”. A night club as an extra is annexed to it. This name “The Curve” prompts the foreigner to resume his musings. He remembers the English definition of polygon: a finite chain of straight line segments that closes in a loop. How the hell has a curve become part of a chain of straight line segments? Should this perhaps be the real Spanish meaning of polygon, something that, beyond geometry, comes to challenge it, just as an assembly line of sexy girls in garter belts in a night club comes to challenge the tightness that a belt conveys to any man´s trousers?

Imagen 1863

The foreigner asks himself this sort of questions while he enters the empty Poligono´s saloon pushing with a sway of his right hip the batwing door. He soon realizes that, in spite of its name, inside The Curve almost everything is angular: checkered grey floor tiles, rectangular pistachio green walls, an oblong metallic counter, a sharp cornered billiard table in the back next to the restrooms, the rectangular door spans of the toilets. Even the waiter with his elongated green olive countenance, his reed like thin hair, the angle ending bags of his eyes, the stiff collar with a bow-tie clinging to his thin and rigid neck seems to match this weird, starched atmosphere as if time had long ago ossified. The sole detail that strikes the foreigner as being out of place is the pair of flip flops that stick out from the bottom of the creases of the waiter´s trousers yet even the sight of this season footwear makes the whole impression more discouraging. The foreigner tells the waiter to pour him a shot of whisky. He gulps it down. Then he asks for another one and he gulps it down as well. All of a sudden he pulls his photo camera out of a leather case and asks the waiter if he can shoot. The waiter makes no objection, he seems even to be somewhat flattered by the foreigner´s shooting. Turning briskly his waist to the right the foreigner stumbles upon a collage of old photos and newspaper clippings hanging on the saloon´s wall


He adjusts the camera´s shutter and shoots. Some of the shot pictures show Hollywood stars from the sixties, Yul Brynner, Sean Connery. In one of them you can see an outdoor filming set. There´s a rather bigger picture with an autograph in English in it that shows a  handsome man whose face vaguely reminds of the waiter´s. In another pic a cowboy with a poncho appears turning his waist to the right grabbing under the poncho a revolver ready to be shot. The foreigner puts two and two together. It dawns on him that the handsome man in the photo with the autograph as well as the cowboy with the poncho turning his waist to the right ready to shoot his revolver are in fact the same person: the waiter´s father, who must have been a half-assed actor in one of the spaghetti-westerns that where shot in Spain in those days. Afterwards or may be simultaneoulsy the waiter´s father became the footballer that appears in another picture, a hockey player that appears in yet another one and finally the cook and pioneer that founded his own saloon, The Curve, and , having annexed to it  a brothel , came to settle  farther west than the far west , in a town called Humanes, in the southbound fields of Madrid´s last human boundaries, where the muted voices of a living dead race of cowboys still claims its rights to those plots of yellow and withered weed- now transformed in half-emptied poligonos- from shabby photo collages. Any foreigner that dares to trespass these borders to collect no matter what overdue debt should know this beforehand and be ready to shoot in self-defense.

The foreigner, leaning back his elbows against the metallic counter of The Curve, lingers for some moments on these thoughts, then duly pays his two shots of whisky and makes his way back to the bus station. He gets onto the bus. Arrives at Humanes centre. Crosses its empty main street, passes by the deserted bar terraces and the closed news kiosk, reaches the railway station, turns the tripod turnstile gate with a sway of his right hip, enters the platform, gets onto the train, ensconces in his seat, takes comfort again in the fixtures and fittings of the train´s compartment, looks out the window, watches the railway stations being left behind: Fuenlabrada, La Serna, Parque Polvoranca, Leganés, Zarzaquemada, Villaverde Alto, Puente Alcocer, Orcasitas, Doce de Octubre, Mendez Alvaro, Atocha. Switches in Atocha´s station to the subway. Gets off in Bilbao´s metro stop. Arrives finally home. Puts away the cash in the false bottom of his briefcase. Grabs something to eat from the fridge. Goes out again and makes slowly his way to the Toast´s café to meet other foreigners to whom he will tell with his transilvanian english accent about that farther west than the far west , 27 km.southbound from Madrid.


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