Somebody has laughed out loud. This sudden noise woke Joe up. He was having a nice nap, but alas that is gone. Still, he was comfortable. He has found just the right way to sit on his seat, the train car was pleasantly warm and had a smoothing rocking to it. Even the other passengers were quiet, except for this sudden outburst he just heard. It was a gloomy Monday morning and everybody was heading to work. The car was not more crowded than usual, but it was dirtier. You could smell the trapped body odour, cigarette smoke, breath of cheap beer and the stench of the filthy lavatory. This unholy cuvée of odours kept on ageing in the car like wine does in the barrel, and just like every barrels wine is different, so was the smell of every old train car. They all stink, but if you travel them long enough, you learn to distinguish between them and to appreciate, of sorts, the different shades and nuances of stench. The hint of coffee that comes from the disposable cup from the trash bin. The dash of chlorine used in the failed attempt to clean up the car a couple of hours ago. The aroma of sweat oozed by the seats during a hot summer. All elements of an olfactory adventure that would knock you out on your
first time, but as time goes by you get comfortable with. It is an acquired taste, in a negative way. Joe, just like all the others he was traveling with, had acquired this taste and occasionally, he even missed it. It was a strange feeling. Long ago, when he was forced to ride this train on a daily bases he would have done everything to escape it. By his own admission, he would have even sucked a dick just to escape his daily commute and everything else connected to it. His job, the bills in the postbox, the maxed out credit cards in his wallet. Everything. And now, now that he no longer needs to worry about all those things ever again, he finds himself wondering back to the very same train and taking the very same ride with the very same people he had despised for so long. He is back here, as if nothing would have changed.
The train conductor came in the car to check the passengers for tickets. He went trough everybody, except for Joe. Joe was sitting alone next to a window. He was staring at the conductor but the conductor looked right trough him and went on to the next passenger. Eventually the conductor moved on to the next car. The sun was already up and Joe could tell that they will arrive shortly. About 20 minutes later he got off the train and made his way out of the train station. On the platform he passed a pack of stray dogs. The dogs proceeded to bark heavenly towards him as Joe passed them by to the big surprise of everybody else around. Joe was still surprised about the fact that such a large pack of strays were allowed to roam unchecked in the heart of the city, inside of a major train station non the less. But his surprise quickly faded away, as this was nothing new under the sun. Anyway, this was no longer any of his concern. Outside of the station, on the street, Joe took a good look around while he was deciding where to go next. It was a cold February Monday morning, just about rush hour. Everybody was going everywhere. Across the street a whole bunch of people were waiting for the tram, all grouped, one next to the other, like penguins, trying to conserve heat in a snowstorm. In the intersection, a maze of cars, each trying to get ahead, to drop the kid off to school and to get to work on time. Some old man clearly does not know what he is doing behind the wheel, as he is keeping up everybody behind him. The light is green but he is afraid to take the turn due to the cars coming from his left. Eventually, the light turns back to red and an orchestra of horns starts to play just for him as gratitude. After 3 painful minutes the light is green again, but alas so is for the pedestrians that are crossing the street on his right. The second act of the traffic symphony dedicated for this man begins to play. Finally, Joe has decided where to go next and starts walking across the intersection, between the cars in the traffic. From there he heads towards the bridge. After about 30 minutes of walking he arrived to a market place which is followed by a street filled with shops on the ground level. None of the stores are anything spectacular, thrift shops, household items, greasy fast food joints and other questionable business ventures that makes one wonder if the owners are crazy or if they are laundering money. Not like these options are mutually exclusive. After 5 more minutes Joe arrives to a gate that despite being large enough for a full sized truck to go trough it, somehow is discreet enough not to be noticed at first glance by an occasional bystander. They usually spot either the sex shop on the left or the Shawarma joint on the right. Who would care for a dull, big gate that is covered partially by old, faded event posters on one hand and by rust on the other? Especially in such select company, I mean, really? But still, Joe is no occasional bystander, he knows the gate well and goes trough it, into the inner court. He takes right, then a left, opens a door, goes down some stairs in the basement and goes in the room. There is no floor in there. No carpet, no tiles, not even concrete. Just the bare, dirt ground on which the very first row of the buildings bricks were layed upon. Across the entrance, an old refrigerator that was most likely salvaged from some two bit bodega decades ago, the kind in which milk and other perishable stuff was kept. Now it is filled up to one third with some cheap kind of beer and about 2 stacks of disposable cups. Where the storage place is limited, one has to improvise. Next to that there is a busted counter and and equally busted boom box, which due to some miracle is still able to play cassette tapes. Up on the wall a neon light is blinking, asking for a friendly slap on the side to resume its normal way of working despite being a decade over its warranty. To the left, there were some tables with some do it yourself type of benches, the ones that are made of two logs, a couple of two by fours and some nails. All these placed small holes in the walls, like cubicles. This place original was used to store fire wood back in the days when the building was constructed. Now that wood is no longer used for heat, the spaces are empty, just good enough for some off the book dive bar. But, given that it is Monday morning, the place is empty, save from Zeke and some other fellow that Joe has never seen before.
“Hi Zeke” said Joe and sits down to their table.
“Joe! Long time no see! Had enough of the country side, had ya?”
“You could say that. Who’s your friend?”
“Ah, he is new in our realm. Doesn’t have all his bearings right. You know how it is at the beginning.”
“yeah, yeah, I do.”
“I am sorry” finally the new guy speaks up, “they call me Chocolate bar. “
“Chocolate bar? That is a strange name. I mean you do not resemble one, in shape or colour either. Who gave you that name anyway?”
“They. I do not remember who exactly. I do not remember much of anything. This is all so confusing…”
“There, there, its okay” said Zeke” We have all been there. Me, Joe, the whole lot of us. You will find your way, don’t worry. Hey Joe! Care to help me out explaining to our new friend the facts of life as we know it?”
“Well first, let us not call them facts of life. It is misleading. They should be the facts of death. I mean we are all dead, right? What good can the facts of life do to a ghost anyway?”