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Janie eased her pack onto the bench and arched her back.

“That damn pack seems to be getting heavier, ” she imagined. Janie was traveling around the world. She had taken a six month leave from her job, sublet her apartment, said goodbye to family and friends, and set off solo. She had been on the road for over a month, seen many countries in South America and was on her way to Patagonia. Today she was taking the 19-hour train ride from San Carlos de Bariloche, in western Argentia, to Viedma in the east. It was summer in Patagonia, and she wanted to see the penguins as they return to their home to nest.

Janie had a thing for penguins.

A penguin keychain hung from her pack. She thinks of it as her good luck charm.

The Bariloche train station was crowded. She had already purchased her ticket and was looking for a place to buy some snacks when she noticed a man staring at her from across the room.

“My God,” she thought, “that is the sexiest man I have ever seen.” Their eyes met and locked. Janie smiled uncomfortably and tried to look away. She had made a vow that on her trip, there would be no one night stands or romances to distract her. But still, this man may be worth breaking the rule. She looked up again and he was gone, lost in the crowd.

Janie headed for the gate. She was hoping to get a seat on the right side of the train in order to have the best view of the landscape as it unfolded. She boarded and found a seat in the first car, stashed her pack overhead, and sat down. She pulled an empanada from the paper sack and took a big bite.

When she looked up, there he was, sitting in the seat across from her.

Janie was not surprised.

He stuck out his hand and said in accented English, “My name is Elesban, but my friends call me Pinguino.” Janie nearly choked on the bite of empanada. Though far from fluent in Spanish, Janie knew enough to know that “Pinguino” translated to “penguin.”

Elesban did not at all resemble a penguin.

Janie stuck out her hand, only to realize it was greasy from the train station empanada. She stopped, wiped it on her jeans, and offered it again. Elesben smiled broadly and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “I could marry this man,” dreamed Janie.

Elesben spoke English peppered with the occasional Spanish phrase that he used when the words escaped him. He spoke with his eyes and with his hands, which Janie found endearing. He would suddenly stop, and ask Janie questions, which made her think deeply and speak from the heart. He listened intently, eyes dreamily watching her mouth as she spoke. They seemed to connect in a deep and meaningful way.

“I could stay in Patagonia for a while. Put the trip on hold,” Janie thought.

The hours flew by. When they both grew tired, Elesben moved to the seat next to hers and motioned for her to put her head on his shoulder. This felt like the natural thing to do. She closed her eyes and dreamt of having children with him, five of them, little Pinguinos.

When Janie woke, Elesben was gone. She figured he had gone to the bathroom, or maybe to stretch his legs, walking from car to car, but he never returned. Janie’s heart sank. She stood up and pulled down her pack. Sure enough, her wallet was gone.   How could she have been so wrong about someone? How could she have been so naive and let her guard down? Why didn’t her instincts kick in?

Janie was despondent in the final hours of the ride. She had only begun her trip, and now it felt like it was going to have to end. She ran through scenarios in her head. Maybe she could find a job somewhere in Patagonia, the summer tourist season was just beginning. Thankfully, she still had her passport which that pienguino didn’t find.

Eventually the train came to a stop in the station in Viedma.

Janie pulled her pack down from overhead and strapped it on her back. It definitely felt heavier. She was feeling the weight of her journey.

The station was empty, except for the line of people waiting to board for the return trip to Bariloche. Janie headed across the large room  for the bathroom, and splashed water on her face. When she exited, the crowd was surging forward to board. From across the room, she spotted him. He was engaged in conversation with a woman, a lone traveler. A tiny teddy bear hung from her back pack. Janie ran to catch him before they climbed the steps to the train.

“Pinguino, “ she yelled, “you stole my wallet!”

Elesban turned his head and smiled, his hand on the arm of the woman.  “Are you talking to me? I don’t know who you think I am but I have never before seen you.  Pinguino? My friends call me Oso de Peluche, Teddy Bear.”

And with that, his ticket was punched, and he  disappeared into the train to begin his return trip.

Melanie Civin Kenion

Melanie Civin Kenion is spending her retirement writing poetry, traveling as much as possible, and playing Rummikub with her grandson.

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