A Train Story

Now that the 'oposiciones' to a post of state high school teacher of English are going to be held again next June in Andalusia, I've remembered a story that I wrote back in the late '80s. I share this story with you today, especially dedicated to my former students who are now preparing for these 'oposiciones', with my best wishes for a brilliant success.


End of June, insufferably hot in Malaga; thank goodness air-conditioning is working on the train today. Well, here I am  on my way to Madrid, Fernando thought, and I hope I get through this time – third time lucky, as they say. He made himself comfortable, and prepared for the long, tedious eight-hour journey ahead. He was fond of trains, anyway, and preferred this means of transport, but his predilection owed nothing to those ruddy ads on TV. It was not in his nature to play at cowboys and Indians with 'little monsters', nor did he believe in the possibility of running into two or three smashing girl tourists, all delighted to share a sleeping-car compartment with him: it would be too good to be true, and besides this was a day train. No, he liked travelling by train because if one was lucky and didn’t come across a bore determined to “brighten up” the trip for you with the story of his life, sprinkled with reiterated offers of home-made black pudding and other delicacies, one could read, reflect, sleep in peace or, in his case, brush up the 150 topics for his ‘oposiciones’ to a post of high school teacher of English. He declined therefore the earphones for the customary horrendous ‘vintage’ film and insipid documentaries, and tried to memorize the 30 to 40 subjects he still didn’t master well enough to impress the examining board, and naturally, before the train got to Bobadilla he was fast asleep...
He was wakened by a louder than usual “ladies and gentlemen, next station, Linares-Baeza.” When the train had started again after a brief stop, and Fernando was thinking of going to the cafeteria to have an unreasonably costly but badly needed cup of coffee, he saw her entering his coach. A graceful, slender brunette of about 25, smartly dressed, who, why deny it, he liked quite a lot, and the next thing he knew, he had got up from his seat, offered to help her with her luggage and commented: “If I had known there were such pretty girls in Linares, I would have got off here more than once, rather than go on to Madrid. Care for a cup of coffee?” “Come on, there’s no need to exaggerate, and O.K. I accept the coffee.” All in less than fifteen seconds, a record. Then, a sudden embarrassed silence, followed by a mutual burst of laughter, as the comical side of the situation dawned on them. She wondered what it was that had made her respond so readily to this pale, skinny stranger’s invitation. But that was the beginning of a pleasant journey together – coffee, a drink, cigarettes and a nice lively conversation all the way to Madrid. Trifling at first: “Have you read The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe?” “Have you seen the latest Woody Allen film?” Then, a bit more personal: names, age, profession, projects: 28, private lessons and the odd translation, for the moment, with the prospect of a fixed post in a State School, in Fernando’s case; 23, a university degree course (Arts), interrupted in the 4th year, owing to her imminent wedding to a wealthy businessman in the capital, as far as Paloma was concerned. Curious coincidence: for both of them it was the future of their lives that was at stake in the next fifteen days or so. More cigarettes, the last drink, no, the last but one...and then, a bit too soon for their taste, Madrid, end of journey. “Which way are you going?” “Oh, my fiancé’s chauffeur is coming for me.” Spontaneous burst of laughter, so pretentious had her words sounded. “Can I give you a lift?” “No, thank you, I’ll get the tube.” At the end of the platform, the adieux. They go their separate ways. Fernando turns...Paloma, who was expecting it, almost in unison with him, calls out: “Ah, good luck!”
Here our tale could very well conclude, but Fate wished it otherwise; this train story was to have a different ending: Paloma and Fernando meet again on the train on their way back, twenty days later. "What a pleasant surprise!" At first, reserve, caution, a bit of nerves on both sides. Then, little by little, the confidences. Fernando’s, not very gratifying, for that matter: “I didn’t pass my exam.” Paloma’s, incongruously joyful: “I didn’t get married, either. I’m not getting married.” A drink to celebrate – “but what are we celebrating?” Laughter, satisfaction at being together and...Linares-Baeza. Paloma reluctantly gets off, and Fernando, too, to help her get her suitcases down. Farewells on the platform, a hurried, gauche kiss...” “But, Fernando, your train’s leaving!” “It doesn’t matter, it’s about time I got to know Linares, don’t you think?” Fernando and Paloma walk slowly, hand in hand, along the platform, deserted at this time of the night, and here this new train story truly ends, or begins, depending on how you look at it...


When this story was written the AVE had not yet come into operation, the train still stopped at Bobadilla and Linares-Baeza, and the journey Málaga-Madrid took much longer than now. Ah, and smoking was allowed everywhere on the train, except in non-smoking compartments.

reading comprehension questions with their answers

a.- Q. Did Fernando like travelling by train? Why?/why not? A. Yes, he did. Because one can read, reflect, sleep in peace, etc. on the train.
b.- Q. What is it he feared most to happen? A. To come across a bore determined to tell him the story of his life, while he kept offering him home-made black pudding and other delicacies.
c.- Q. Why was Fernando going to Madrid? And Paloma? A. Fernando was going to be examined by an examining board to try to get a permanent teaching post in a state high school, and Paloma, to get married.
d.- Q. Act out the conversation they have when they first meet on the train, and the one they have when they meet again on their way back from Madrid. A. Fernando: “Hullo, let me help you with your luggage”. Paloma: “Thank you”. Fernando: “If I had known there were such pretty girls in Linares, I would have got off here more than once, rather than go on to Madrid. Care for a cup of coffee?” Paloma: “Come on, there’s no need to exaggerate, and O.K., I accept the coffee.”
     Fernando: “Hullo again. What a pleasant surprise!” Paloma: “Oh, yes, hullo!” Fernando: “I didn’t pass my exam.” Paloma: “I didn’t get married, either. I’m not getting married.” Fernando: “Come on, let’s have a drink to celebrate!” Paloma: “O.K....but what are we celebrating?”
e.- Q. Give a follow-up to the story. Suggested answer: Paloma gets her degree, Fernando finally becomes a state high school teacher, and then they get married and live happily ever after.

4 comentarios :

  1. I wouldn't mind failing the "Oposiciones" if that led me to the love of my life!

    1. That would be having my cake and eating it!

      Joking aside, yes, why not?