The Goodbye Windows

by Ralph Pitre

Roberto raced across the station house to the glass windows facing the platform. He climbed onto the wooden bench set against the windows and pressed his wind burned face to the glass. The warmth of his breath formed a small circle of fog on the cold window.

"Roberto!"

"Si Mama?" Roberto turned from the windows to see his Mama and Grandmother, Abuela he called her, stroll slowly in from the cold outside to the frigid stale air of the station house.

"Don't leave me like that," said Mama. "Get down from there. You're not supposed to be up there."

"Aye. Se quiere ver el tren," said his Grandmother. "Dejarlo, Sylvia."

"I want to see the fast train go by," Roberto said to his Mama. "I want to see all the people get on so I can wave good-bye to them. Just like I'll wave to you, Mama, when you go to work."

Roberto reached for his Mama. She caught him in her arms as he leaned forward off the bench to fall into her embrace and lay his head on her shoulders.

Her body was warm despite the cold room they stood in. Roberto looked around at the old wooden house. The thin walls did nothing to protect them against the cold. The walls were washed lightly in white paint that was cracking and flaking to the floor where it was left to stain the concrete, like white chalk across a chalkboard. The furniture provided was used and mostly donated by locals. He could smell the coffee and sugar pastries that were sold on a cart across the room from the windows, that was the only source of warmth in the room beyond ones own body heat.

All around he could see people who were his Mama's friends. Just as Mama did every Monday morning, these people traveled to the city for the week to be near their jobs. Like Mama two years ago, they had journeyed north into the mountains outside of the city for work the government had promised them would be available. The promise was never kept. After settling down to live and work in the mountains, and unable to get back into the low income housing projects they had left behind, they stayed in the mountains and traveled back to the city for work.

A distant bell rang out in urgency. Just as urgently, Roberto stepped back from his Mama onto the bench and knelt down to look out the windows. Roberto looked to his left in the direction of the bell. There was the curious little sound of track metal clanking lightly, the frost on the train tracks shimmering in its wake. Suddenly the heavy winter coats of passengers waiting on the platform began to unfurl in a growing wind. Hats blew off. Scarves quivered furiously. People on the platform dashed for the safety of the station house, then stood back to face the windows. The sound of thunder, like the sound of a thousand horses stampeding, shook the wretched little station house. The aging paper thin walls rattled, as if in fear. Everyone stood in anticipation of what was about to occur.

Roberto pressed his little face against the window. Passengers standing bravely out on the platform turned away from the tracks looking toward the station house and stood vigilant against the growing thrust of wind.

All at once the giant engine of iron exploded into view. Nothing but its dark mass filled all you could see from the station house or platform. The wall of hot air that had developed before it blew open all the doors. The heat of it's passing breathe filled the station house. You could smell the cold air burning, quickly warming everyone at once.

The pounding of the metal wheels against the tracks seemed to go on forever as car after car of the express train roared passed them. Roberto stared at the people on the platform. Their faces contorted and frozen from the wind and noise of the train as it passed.

The final car snapped by in a blur. Roberto turned his head right, his left cheek pressed against the cold window glass, staring in amazement at the train as it sped away and disappeared from sight. He turned to his Mama with a smile.

Mama smiled back and said, "Every time Roberto. Every time the same thing."

"Va ser un 'conductor'," said Grandmother and chuckled.

Roberto turned back to the windows as everyone who had rushed into the station house returned to the platform. Then just as before, though less sudden, the tracks clanked even lighter, the wind barely rushed upon them and no one hurried into the station house, as another iron diesel engine lumbered along the tracks, slowly filling the view from the windows. There wasn't any hot breath from its fire filling the station house. Just the bellowing sound of its engine rattled the wooden bench and tickled Roberto's kneecaps.

"Give me 'un beso', Roberto," said Mama. She leaned over to him as he turned and stood up on the bench. His little arms wrapped around her neck. He kissed her on the cheek. Mama patted his back and kissed him behind his ear.

"Te veo Mommy," said Mama to Grandmother, kissing her wrinkled forehead.

Roberto watched Mama pick up her small worn yellow suitcase and rush along with the rest of the people to board the train. The train hissed and moaned as it settled down on the tracks and blew steam from its underside. Roberto looked through the windows of the station house, running from one end of the bench to the other, watching the darkened windows for a sign of Mama. Other faces appeared in the windows. Some he knew, others he didn't. To all he waved hearty good-bye's, and they all waved back at him.

Mama's face suddenly appeared in a window at the far end of the car she had boarded. She didn't seem to acknowledge him when he waved.

"Mama," called Roberto. He flailed his arms hoping she would see him. Still she didn't wave back. "Mama!"

She waved.

"Abuela! She sees me," Roberto called to his grandmother. "She sees me, Abuela!"

She waved her arm, her head turned in the direction of the station house, though their eyes never met.

The train whistle blew. The engine hissed and blew steam that covered the platform. The train lurched forward then cruised on. The steam from the engine dissipated as the train pulled away.

Roberto waved until the train was out of sight. He stood with his arms at his sides. One day, Roberto knew, he would take a trip as everyone else did, into the city, to see where he had been born. To see the cousins Mama tells him so much about. To travel like everyone else. So that one day he could look from the train and see another little boy waving good-bye to him through the windows of the station house. Then he would wave back and smile.

His grandmother took him by the arm and helped him down off the bench. They walked out of the empty station house together and into the cold.