It probably was not him.
On the slow, local train returning to my Catalan village after a weekend in Barcelona I take a moment from reading Henry Miller and jotting down observations in my journal to glance across the aisle and a row ahead where a man frantically writes in a large red notebook.
I wonder what he’s writing. Something powered by intense emotion, I would guess from the speed with which he wields his pen.
It is spring, wet, the countryside green. The train’s windows are opaque sheets of emerald rainwater.
He senses me staring and glances over. He is gaunt, in his forties. His sculpted features are ragged, more Giacometti than Leonardo. Behind wire rim glasses are eyes of a fanatic, or addict.
After the seaside town of Arenys de Mar, the sun appears. To catch its warmth, I take my sandwich from my packsack and scrunch against the window.
In front of village houses potted geraniums gleam red or white. Mimosa bushes sport the identical green and gold of the University of Alberta Golden Bears basketball team uniforms. Almond trees are robed in bridal white.
Directly across the aisle, behind the addict, or fanatic, a child of English tourists denounces nature as a sham because, “flowers do not taste as nice as they look.”
Turning to me, the child sings, “Hey ho hippy gypsy, gypsy hippy hippy, why don’t you share your lunch with me?”
“Because I’m hungry,” I reply.
“Good reason but not good enough,” she counters and holds out her hand.
“Yes,” she says, more forcefully.
“Yes,” she says, cocking her head and fixing me with the ageless stare of a matron at a juvenile detention center.
I break off a chunk of cheese from the sandwich, slide across the seat and hold it out to her.
“No,” she says. “I’m not hungry. You eat it.”
The man with the notebook has paused his Bic pen. Again, he must sense my eyes on him. Turning to me, his craggy face is swiftly memorized. Neither curious nor annoyed, it gives no indication of what caused him to turn around. Our wire rim glasses are identical.
After a few minutes the train slows. We are approaching Blanes, another seaside town. Among the umbrella pines is a campground with a few tents. I catch a glimpse of a beach. Beyond it the sea does not beckon as it will in warmer weeks.
The English child and her parents make their way to the exit, the child talking and talking. The writer leaves off writing, closes the notebook and grabs his shoulder bag.
On his feet in the aisle when the train jerks to a halt, he is impelled sharply forward then immediately backward as the brakes release. Balance lost, he extends his hand to catch hold of something, anything.
It contacts only air until I reach out and grab it.
“Gracias,” he says, regaining his footing. Then he notices my book and says, “I love Henry Miller.”
His English comes out with a South American accent, perhaps Chilean.
And that’s it. He’s gone. All possibility for a promising conversation between kindred spirits denied.
On the platform the child marches, leading her family one way while he goes another.
As I said, impossible.
But, thirty years later, here is that face, this time in the photograph on the flyleaf of the book he might have been writing then. Same eyes, the glasses; the hair a little wild. According to the bio on the book’s back flap, the date would make it possible. He lived in Blanes then.
But, no, it couldn’t have been.
But if it was, fierce addict and ingenious author, dead much too soon, I salute you.