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The train between Mexico City and Nuevo Laredo was called the Águila Azteca (Aztec Eagle). Within a year of this ride, this passenger train service – along with dozens upon dozens more – would disappear forever.
_ _ _
11-12 December 1996
Nuevo Laredo to Mexico City (2ª clase)
When I hit Laredo this December afternoon, heat distorted the sidewalks. A bank clock flashed 91ºF … 33ºC.
Under a bridge on the Mexican side, between downtown and the train station, traffic was tied up by a demonstration holding banners.
I now have my ticket for Mexico City. Since I last took this train seven months ago, the price has increased about 25 percent.
We board the train. Everyone bustles to find a place – even the cucurachas.
But for over an hour our departure is delayed. A US cargo train must go by first. And that train is long with car after sealed car of automobiles, their chrome and headlights gleaming through the. perforated metal sides. That train’s breeze cools the early evening swelter.
As we leave Nuevo Laredo, the sound of beaten drums passes alongside us. A procession slowly wends the trackside road. A large banner of the Virgen de Guadalupe flutters. Houses flash with the multicolour of Christmas lights.
I awaken to the deep darkness of night. Out onto the vestibule I walk and hang over the half-door. The sky is so black and full of stars dusted with the Milky Way.
* * *
Day will be breaking soon here, near Saltillo. The sky begins to lighten a bit … then brightens and clears with the rising sun ready to top the mountains rimming this desert.
* * * *
South of La Maroma, we click by a field of goats leaping into the air.
A little brother and sister hang over the seat in front of me and pop back beyond.
The boy reappears
How old are you, I ask him.
Five, he answers, his short fingers of one hand raised.
No-o-o-o, I tell him.
His sister shows her head
How old are you?
Four. She forces the thumb down and that fourth finger up.
And your brother?
Dos, she says, quickly flashing two fingers.
She, too, then disappears.
* * * * *
We take a mid-afternoon break in San Luis Potosí. The train is cleaned, supplies reloaded, more passenger cars hooked up.
After a while I begin to wonder if I really am on this train …
Pepe’s parents ask him to sit next to me. His mother wants to put up her bare feet swollen by nine months of pregnancy. The two-year-old pouts.
I offer a mandarin if he comes. He grabs the bright orange ball from my held-out hand and hides behind his mother’s knee.
Thank the señora, his parents urge.
But he only pouts more.
In a while he comes hanging over the seat in front.
Oh, now you have a smile, I tell him. What a miracle!
He laughs and disappears.
Leaving this city, we pass a neighbourhood wall painted with a huge portrait of Che Guevara.
* * * * * *
The new conductor sits beside me. He, too, is a poet – somewhat. But he loves poetry. He recites one by Amado Nervo as the countryside clatters by.
The first lieutenant father offers me a banana. The children are looking at me. I begin monkey-talking. They erupt into giggles.
* * * * * * *
The trees of Escobedo are full of garzas. On this side of the station, a young boy in a bright purple soccer uniform kicks a ball. He carries a large plaid bag in one hand.
The sun begins to set. The sky around it is red-orange and purple.
We near Mexico City, swooping fast to make up lost time, bypassing station after town. The lights of that metropolis spread wide like golden wings through its valley.