He felt as if he was taking part in a French art-house film. He was gazing blankly out of the train's window as it passed yet another graffiti covered breeze-block wall. Not artistic graffiti. Not the political slogans and murals of the 1970s. Nothing worth the effort of paying attention to. Tags. That is all they were. To the uninitiated they were completely indecipherable symbols that served to mark the territory of some urban youths. The sociologists would call them alienated, while the social workers would call them disaffected. Most other people would call them vandals. The scene ought to have been in black and white. It ought to have been raining. There should have been music beating in time with the noise from the train's wheels.
The train carried on its way into the tunnel. There was nothing left for him to look at except his own image reflected in the window. What had happened to him, he thought as he examined a face that was now clearly middle-aged. He looked at the beard that was a result of laziness rather than a consequence of a deliberate aesthetic choice. He allowed himself to admit that he probably looked better with the beard than he did without. Not that there was much of a improvement, the only real difference being that it hid half of his face. And his jowls.
Jowls. He wondered when it was that he became unkempt, old, tired, overweight and ugly. Not so very long ago he was slim and reasonably handsome. Not that he thought he was very good looking, but he thought that he never used to be ugly. He certainly wasn't overweight. And he didn't have grey hairs in his lazy beard. And his eyes were clear and bright and without wrinkles and bags. And he most certainly did not have jowls. The decay crept up on him and caught him unawares, so much so that the face staring back at him from the darkness of the tunnel was not his. He could not possibly be that old man. That man there had jowls, and his beard barely disguised them. He didn't even look distinguished. He looked unkempt, old, tired, overweight and ugly. And he had jowls.
'A próxima estação: Alameda. Há correspondência com a linha vermelha.'
The recorded announcement shook him out of his self-pity. He knew that he was back in Lisbon when he heard these announcements. He knew the announcements word for word, and took them with him when he was not in town. These words made Lisbon real. To him they were a representation of everyday normality. They were people going to work. They were women hurriedly drinking strong black bicas as they smoked their SG lights and said estou no café... into their mobile phones. A próxima estação... these were not the words of tourist Lisbon. They were imperiais, not canecas. They were a pastelaria in Roma, not a pavement café in Rua Augusta. These were the words of Alfacinha Lisbon. When he heard them it made Lisbon more real.
The train came to its expected halt, yet, despite experience, the final judder still managed to catch most of the standing passengers by surprise. He watched them as they tried to steady themselves and listened to all of the desculpes and não faz mals. The doors opened and the carriage refreshed itself.
Some faceless head muttered 'desculpe lá... faz favor...' as the body to which it was attached pushed past his knees and fell into the seat facing him. The normal unwritten rules of public transport were immediately put into action. He and the Desculpe La opposite were forced to share the same space for a few minutes before parting forever. Yet they studiously avoided any eye contact. He rested his elbow on the small ledge and cradled his head on his hand as he gazed at his own reflection again. The recorded voice called out once more: A próxima estação: Arroios.