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Sleeper Cars.



Below the streets, when night descends, in the tunnel, in the obscurity of the nomadic city, between the alloy of a dim light and the metallic noises of the underground, subway cars are transformed into solitary dormitories. Aisles exhale the drowsiness of bodies spread out on fiber and plastic-framed lounge chairs. Bedrooms without lamps or headboards, without quilts or sheets or a nightstand to leave a picture of lost times. Each car is a constellation of unfinished dreams. A field of lonely, melancholy niches. Here warm-blooded bodies rest in agony. Banished from the world, they die in the swaying of trains. They close their eyes and look like children clinging to the arms of an absent mother. Sometimes they stretch their bodies or contract like fetuses aborted by a city that despises them. A city that has distorted their nature. The doors open and a couple enters wrapped in the mixed scent of alcohol and tobacco, with that exaggerated New York joy in their conversations. They look away because the sleeping cars have a rule: do not disturb the sleeping beauties, their soporific presence. Sometimes the car shakes them and someone whispers in their ear: “blessed are those who sleep”. Then they might shudder, or open a scornful eye, perhaps confused at not knowing where in New York they are, and who cares? They yawn and take cover under their coat, their silk sheet.

I remember one night —just after midnight— as I was coming home on the six train near Canal Street, a young woman who looked about twenty-five— but was certainly much younger — with a pale face and a sweet look, was lying near one of the doors that separate the cars. She was covered with a pink jacket. Brown hair tied with a pink ribbon and a faded plastic orchid. She was wearing plaid pajama pants and “Hello Kitty” slippers and was cornered against the wall. Her look of terror. The look of a soul that has been broken early on. She was hugging her little stuffed bear. They call it "Teddy bear" here. She was pressing it to her chest, as if to protect him from ghosts that pursue and torment him. And that look, sweet and frightened at the same time, I can't forget it. Why was her tenderness squandered in a subway car? That night why was she not in the arms of someone who loves her? I once read that “any kind of inhumanity, with time, becomes human.” It was Kawabata, in his novel The House of the Sleeping Beauties. Sleeping cars are a mystery. A mystery of human pain, a mystery of the abandonment and constant loneliness of the big city.

Manhattan, March 12, 2020.


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