Curiously enough, what most worried me from the beginning was whether I would learn how they lived, without it being my impression that the reasons for such a life were of paramount importance. Almost immediately I forsook any notion of sidings or abandoned caves; their existence was manifest and coincided with the comings and goings of the passengers between stations. There is no doubt that one can vaguely detect between Loria and Plaza Once a Hades replete with forges, detours, warehouses of materials, and odd boxes fitted with blackened glass. I espied this type of netherworld for a few seconds, as the train entering the station brutally shook us through its curves, a station which, in comparison to the netherworld, seemed brilliant. For me it was enough to consider the number of workers and foremen sharing these dirty galleries with the eventual aim of abandoning them like some usable, if temporary stronghold. They would not reveal themselves here, at least not during the initial stages. Many trips and minute observation showed me that nowhere apart from the line itself – I mean the stations and their platforms, and the trains in almost permanent movement – were there conditions and spaces suitable for their life. Theories involving sidings, junctions, and storehouses were dismissed until I came to a clearer understanding of the horrible truth. A truth borne from the necessary residue here in this crepuscular kingdom where the notion of residue returns again and again. The existence I sketch out (some would say, I propose) occurred to me out of brutal and implacable necessity: to wit, from a succession of refused possibilities there arose the only remaining possibility. Now it was all too clear that they could not be found in some particular place: they lived in the subway, in the trains of the subway, moving continuously. Their existence and circulation of leucocytes – so pale, so pale are they all! – so favored anonymity that I have protected them until now.
Once I reached this point in my understanding, the rest soon became evident. Apart from dawn and very late at night, the trains of the Anglo line were never empty because Buenos Aires natives were noctambulant: there were always a few passengers coming and going before the closing of the rails. Imagine now a last train, already serving no useful purpose and simply running in completion of the schedule, although no one was aboard. This was something I never managed to see. Well, actually, I did manage to see such a train a few times, but only in my opinion was the train truly empty. Its scant passengers were a part of the train, a part that lengthened its night in order to fulfill inflexible instructions. I could never determine the nature of their forced refuge for those three dead hours, from two to five in the morning, during which the Anglo did not run. Either they remained in a train traveling on a siding (in that case, the conductor had to be one of them), or they regularly mixed in with the night-shift cleaning crew. The latter is less likely, owing to the clothes and personal relations involved. I tend to suspect they made use of the tunnel, unknown to the common passenger, connecting Once station to the port. Why is the room with the No entry warning sign at José María Moreno filled with rolls of paper, not counting the large chest which could contain some other things? The visible fragility of this door lends itself to the worst suspicions. Although such an idea might not be very reasonable, my impression with everything is that, in some way, they persist in their existence as already described, without leaving the trains or the platform of the stations. Aesthetic necessity provides me, on a fundamental level, with some certainty, perhaps even reason. No valid residues in this permanent circulation, which takes them and carries them between the two terminals, appear to exist.
I have mentioned aesthetic necessity, yet perhaps this is merely a pragmatic reason. The plan requires great simplicity so that each one of them can react mechanically without making any mistakes at those important moments of which their permanent life underground is composed. For example, how would I, exercising saintly patience, be able to check that each one of them knows he should make no more than one trip in the same car to avoid attention? In the Plaza de Mayo terminal, however, they were instructed to remain seated because congestion forced many passengers to get on at Florida, thus overtaking those waiting in the terminal. In Primera Junta the operation is different: one only needs to get off, walk a few meters, and disappear among the passengers on the train of the opposite track. In all these cases their advantage is that the vast majority of the passengers only travel part of the way, that is to say, not from one end of the line to another. When these passengers take the subway much later on, thirty minutes later if simply attending to a short errand or eight hours later if they are office or manual workers, it is unlikely that they would recognize those who remained down there, especially with the continuous changing of cars and trains. This last change, which I verified at great personal cost, is much more subtle and corresponds to an inflexible scheme destined to impede possible visual links between the security staff and the passengers who happen to frequent the same trains (two times out of five, according to the hours and the affluence of the public). Now I know, for example, that the girl waiting in Medrano that night had gotten off the train which came before the one I took and, having traveled with me to Río de Janeiro, had boarded the next train. Like all of them, she had been given precise instructions until the end of the week.
Habit has taught them to sleep in their seats, but only for periods of no more than a quarter of an hour. Even those of us who travel now and then on the Anglo end up having a tactile memory of the itinerary; the entry into the line's few curves is an infallible indicator if we depart Congreso towards Sáenz Peña, or if go back up towards Loria. They are so habituated to such schemes that they wake up at precisely the right moment to get off and change cars or trains. They sleep with dignity, seated upright, their heads hardly resting on their chests. Twenty fifteen-minute periods is enough to be rested; as an additional advantage, they also have those three hours about which I am fated not to know anything, those three hours when the Anglo is closed to the public. Once I found out that they possessed at least one train, which perhaps confirmed my hypothesis about the siding during closing hours, I told myself that their life could have been imbued with an almost pleasant sense of community had they happened to ride this train all together. Quick but delicious group meals between one station and another, an uninterrupted dream in a trip from terminal to terminal, even the happiness of conversation and contact between friends and, why not, even relatives. Yet it soon became clear that they sedulously avoided gathering all together in their train (if they have only one; provided that, doubtless, their number grows in tiny, gradual amounts); they know all too well that any identification would be fatal to them. They also know that memory is better at remembering three sad tigers seen together, as the tongue-twister goes, than individual, isolated beasts.
Their train allowed them to hold brief secret meetings whenever they needed to receive and pass along the new weekly tabulation which the First One would prepare on block notepads and distribute every Sunday to the heads of the group. They would also receive a weekly allowance for their food, and an emissary of the First One (undoubtedly, the train conductor) listened to what each one of them had to say regarding clothes, messages to the outside, and their overall health. The program entailed a sufficiently drastic alternation of trains and cars so that running into one another would become practically impossible, and their lives would keep distancing themselves from one another until the end of the week. I presume (I have come to understand all this through tense mental images in which I felt that I and they were one, in which I suffered and rejoiced just like they suffered and rejoiced) that they waited every Sunday just like we above awaited our own peace. That the First One was chosen on that day does not correspond with a tradition that I would have been surprised to find in them. One simply knows that on Sunday a different type of passenger rides the subway. For that reason any Sunday train is more anonymous than one on Monday or Friday.
Delicately joining all these different elements of the mosaic, I was able to understand the initial phase of the operation and the capture of the train. The first four of them, as the figures from the checks prove, descended into the metro one Tuesday. That evening, on the platform of Sáenz Peña, they studied the caged faces of the conductors passing by. The First One gave a signal and they boarded a train. They had to wait for the departure from the Plaza de Mayo, make use of three stations on their path, and make sure the guard was in another car. The most difficult part was getting to the point when they would be alone. They were aided by a gallant provision on the part of the Transportation Association of the City of Buenos Aires, which authorized use of the first car for elderly women and children, coupled with a Buenos Aires tendency towards the sensible disdain of this car. In Peru two old female passengers were talking about the liquidation of the Casa Lamota (where you saw Carlota) as a boy sat amidst an unsuitable reading of Rojo y Negro (the magazine, not Stendhal). The guard was near the middle of the train when the First One entered the car for elderly women and children and tapped discreetly on the train conductor's cabin door. The latter opened it a bit surprised but still not suspecting anything; the train was already heading up to Piedras. They passed Lima, Sáenz Peña, and Congreso without incident. In Pasco there was some delay in getting out, but the guard was at the other end of the train and did not notice anything. Before reaching Río de Janeiro, the First One had returned to the car where the other three were waiting. Forty-eight hours later a conductor dressed in civilian clothes a bit big for him mixed in with the people who got off at Medrano, and caused chief inspector Montesano the great displeasure of increasing his figures by one on Friday. The First One was already in command of his train, with the other three trying furtively to stand in for him when the moment arrived. I omit the fact that, little by little, they did the same thing with other guards, depending on the trains they captured.
Owners of more than one train, they had at their disposal a mobile territory in which they could operate with a certain amount of security. I will probably never know why the conductors of the Anglo gave in to the extortion or bribes of the First One, nor how the latter avoids possible identification when he is confronted by other members of the staff, or how he pays his salaries or signs payroll. I could only proceed peripherally, discovering one by one the immediate mechanisms of this vegetative life in its outward behavior. It was hard for me to admit that they fed almost exclusively on the victuals sold in station kiosks, until I grew convinced that the most extreme rigor presided over this praiseless existence. They bought chocolates and local pastries, sweet bars of milk and cocoa, nougat candy and nutritious caramels. They ate them as if they were indifferent to being offered candy; yet when they traveled in one of their trains, paired-off colleagues dared to buy one of the biggest local pastries with plenty of caramel spread and chocolate drops and, with the joy of a genuine meal, shamefully devour them into crumbs. Never has a peaceful solution to the recurring problem of food been found. Again and again they became wickedly hungry; sweets now repulsed them; and the memory of salt crashed into their mouths like a wave of horrible delight. And with salt came the taste of roasted meat, now unattainable, and of a soup of parsley and celery. It was at this time that a steak house opened in the Once station, and sometimes the smoky smell of the sausages and pork sandwiches even reached the platform. But they could not take advantage of the steak house because it was on the other side of the turnstiles, on the platform of the train to Moreno.