She was a returning foreign exchange student engaged in a casual conversation with a guy.
|“Immer warte an” or, “Es kommt gleich,” Always wait on, or it happens soon.
To her it meant something to anticipate that might just happen before the end of the millennium, if she was lucky.
Hadn’t she just spent time in a country where people were their own walking manufactured time pieces?
Every thing was measured up to, when it would happen, from after, it did happen? Through peaks and troughs, in between nothing more than a void, minutes ticked away. Marked events on their wrists, hurried in, a grab of a lunch sack. On their great clocks events pushed letters through their post offices. In their halls events allowed them to dance in manic frenzy. In their libraries events compelled them to pour over facts. In their museums events summoned them to slow down and get lost in the meaning of design. Children succumbed to the strict propriety of the minutes held over their behavior. The guidelines of such was an account of happening that occurred not in blocks of five to ten minutes, but in precision, down to the minute exactness of accountability. She had been given not fifteen minutes to complete a task, but, instead, seventeen minutes. It was as if the extra time added to the, after fifteen minute mark enforced a stringent punctuality that there would be no excuse to waver from. The fifteen-minute after mark was thought to be too liberal. It allowed for room to fudge, to create the excuses needed to explain in reasonable logic that a goal could not be fulfilled. It almost granted one a permission to fail. To prevent the failures in life, the accountability of the minute was invented to remind every one of duty. Duty to perform so that the life that was passing in and around them was well tabulated and filed in the proper places of memory. Done so for the purposed of seeing how life they had lived had indeed been fulfilled even when it didn’t feel as if it had. So they would, “immer warte an” to see what surprises life would bring. And, they would wait on, “es kommt gleich” in the hopes that it happened sooner than later and that it would not disappoint.
Again, she sounded them in her head, “Immer warte an. Es kommt gleich.”
Still the two phrases contended for equal importance in her thoughts but all they could produce was a sigh.
How many hours had it been? How many hours, waiting? The hour was late and the day had already been filled with extensive travel. Pale from lugging a so-called, light-weight international suitcase, heavy with a year’s worth of clothes, she wound her way in and around the crowds and dropped her suitcase again by a huge luminous clock. Staring through it, she watched as it ticked with an efficient jolting action on top of a long steel pole that imposed itself, up, into the reverberating dome of the station, from a cement slab near the middle of the tracks. Each harsh black dashed minute line was counted in syncopation. For some reason this leviathan time piece made her glance unconsciously at her own watch. She shook her head and then her wrist. Leaving the suitcase under the observant clock, she wandered on down the platform, over to where a picture of the train and its cars stretched out through two placards. The function of the engine was defined as if to show the location of every working mechanical aspect of every part that had been placed in it. The placard’s sheen gleamed unevenly on top of the bumpy brick wall that it was attached to. The wall divided cement benches that were positioned on either side of it. Since the tracks extended down both sides of the platform there were places to wait for the train on either side of them. At present, the bench before her was unoccupied. She kneeled into it with the knee of her worn out dirty looking black jeans. Leaning forward, she scrutinized a section of the map. Her eyes fixed on a section four cars back from the engine to where cars five and six were highlighted. Identified with flourishing giant arrows the placard indicated, ‘here look, here’. She wrinkled her nose in confusion as she looked at the designated cars. Already having checked the diagram once, she was yet looking at it again to double check. This time she noticed something that she’d missed the first time she’d wandered over only to glance at it.
“Huh? Well, that’s not very many,” She confirmed with herself, “I better move my stuff down here.”
She gazed back up at the large clock again. All of ten minutes had passed and her stomach was making noises. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast and now she was looking with contempt at baggage that she was going to have to transport. She felt like she was hauling one of those old fashioned steamer trunks that could hold anything from a dead body to a magician’s tools of trade. Thinking about its weight, she imagined that she was a cabin boy on that steamer. Hauling it around on this day’s travels was starting to feel as if she was in charge of a small child and having to herd it through a store without it knocking something off of a shelf and breaking it. She sighed again. Boy was she glad she didn’t have to feed that suitcase. Wandering closer to the entrance of the station, she found a kiosk grill and stood in line. Incrementally she nudged her suitcase with her foot as she moved through line. As she exchanged some money for a paper boat of curry wurst the lady at the cash register noticed her trim figure and tried to talk her into buying another curry wurst. The girl shook her head to decline but the clerk only waved her hands in front of her own already ample breasts to indicate even larger ones. She rambled on to the girl, questioning her about the success of finding a boyfriend unless she ate more to grow larger breasts. The girl rolled her eyes and picked up the curry wurst in front of the clerk. Then she over exaggerated the opening in her mouth and tore heartily into the meat with her teeth. The clerk scoffed and the girl shrugged and left the counter kicking her suitcase out of the way in the manner of encouraging a small animal not to jump up on your knee. The girl went over to one of the small pedestal tables and continued to finish what she took a halatious bite of at the counter. The curry wurst was spicy sweet and filling. Settling while she chewed on her snack, she looked around the train station at the people. Watching people told her stories about their behavior. This preoccupation was like a little past time for her to keep her from becoming bored. Over by one of the idling trains rumbling and surging on the tracks, she spotted a pair of enraptured lovers. They were lingering on the lips. The woman’s body strain toward an open train car door. One of the guy’s hands was burrowed in the woman’s hair at the back of her neck. The other hand clutched her perfectly shaped bottom. At first for the girl the strategic placement of the guy’s hand was the wonder that she fathomed on. She thought about how it must be difficult to pay attention to the woman’s lips in between his hands as spread out as he was. But the longer the couple held the kiss, the further to the side the girl tilted her head and fell with it. Their kiss made her tingle as she remembered something from her year with her host family.
As awareness came back to her, the window that had just shown her the couple had disappeared from view. The train was no longer there. How many minutes ago it had ceased to occupy the track it had been on, she didn’t know. She finished her meal and threw the tray away. The clerk followed her once more, disapprovingly and shook her head as if the girl was a lost cause. The girl readjusted her backpack and hoisted the handle of her luggage and walked back toward the giant clock…to keep it company while they waited for, “es kommt gleich.” As she traveled out the slab adjacent to the tracks where her train was due, she noticed a gathering had commenced. Several European boys were sprawled out near the bench where she’d been kneeling. They were up against the wall beneath the huge train placard she’d looked at earlier. The misbehaving hair on the heads representing Europe’s youth were overflowing on too brightly colored backpacks. As she came near the bench one of the boys raised up his head and furrowed around inside his oversized fatigue army jacket and called out to her, “Nah.”
“Nah,” She returned.
“Hey, Amerika, you want I should give you cigarette?”
The girl shook her head, no.
He shrugged, and tapped out an unfiltered stick and pinched it in between his fingers. Cupping the lighter between his hands he lit it. As he did, he inhaled deeply on it as if it were fresh air.
The girl came over to where his feet were sticking out into the path of the crowd that was trickling in that direction.
“Hey, how did you know I was an American?”
He waved his cigarette at her suitcase and said, “Only American pull around dog that big.”
“Ha ha, that was so funny, I forgot to laugh.” She gasped sarcastically.
Again, he only shrugged.
The girl walked away toward the bench and the boy closed his eyes, cigarette hanging from his lips. She sunk down into the hard seat, wrangled her suitcase out in front of her and propped her feet against it. Scenes of the past morning played out in flashes as she sealed them slowly behind her dark eyelashes. Remaining in restful alertness she looked into their faces again. She reminisced about how these staunchy upright people who had continuously policed their behavior, all had tried to hold back tears before she got on the train. Even the prideful fiery redhead who had been the girl’s strongest critic, her German host mother, had dabbed in embarrassment at the moisture in the corners of her eyes. The prideful strong woman who required an evening gulp of schnapps so that she could manage the pain of turning back the covers on her bed to climb into alone every night. Her husband was, ironically at work in the America, the girl’s home. Knowing that there had been difficulties between the German woman and herself it had surprised the girl when, at the last minute, the woman had roughly dragged the girl into her decisive arms. She had, of course, had a speech all prepared and, she pulled the girl far enough out of the hold to deliver it with a wagging finger.
“Euros, only for sandwich and coke, not for beer! Beer will bring the sleep and your journey is long to home.”
This last word echoed in the girl’s ears as she remembered the feel of her six year old little German brother, Marco’s practiced hand shake indenting her hand. And, as she released his tiny formal hand, she heard the staunch woman utter something that she’d thought she’d never hear, “One day you will return, yes? Return back to your German mama once you are grown and wise, neh?”
The girl sighed once more, “Ach Ja.” Maybe, in spite of the difficulties she had endured the past year with the woman, the woman did have a warmth in her heart somewhere underneath her militant exterior. Out of the three sisters who had been in the household only one could fit in the car that family borrowed to see that she arrived at the train station in plenty of time to wait to catch her train. The one who fit in the car was the sister nearest in age to her. Whereas the older woman had been point of fact comparatively reserved in her advice, the younger version of her in the German sister was a vocally obtrusive bulldog. Once she chewed her way into a subject there was no stopping her yammering bossy chatter until she ran out of breath. So, she had spent a great deal of a time shaking her finger at the girl as well about the subject of not talking to boys on the train.
As the girl’s host family stood in an even line on the dingy white tiles in the train station in Bremerhaven the year long journey had come to an end. The girl shook each one of their hands and thanked them for taking her in for the year. Then she adjusted her backpack and grabbed the handle of her suitcase. Winding her way in and out of the crowds along the snaking gray sidewalks, she walked out toward the carpeted off ramps that nestled against the trains.
The next bit of drama of that day to play out behind the girl’s eyes was how she almost missed her transfer connection in Osnabruck. When she had boarded the train there, the train she’d climbed on seemed to have had an absence of passengers. She thought that was fine she it wouldn’t become to crowded when it came time to pull out. The conductor rambling down the narrow aisle outside of the compartments, keys rattling off of his belt, poked his head in the compartment and barked at her. He told her she was on the wrong train and that the train she was sitting on was there waiting for servicing. When he told her where her next train was located, she had to scramble down the stairs and run for it. It was sitting five tracks over. As she ran she watched the doors shut. It was ready to leave. The suitcase that had been almost empty when she arrived to Germany was now full of European fashions. As it grew heavier in it’s attempt to slip from her grasp, it gave her a whole new outlook on the phrase, “being a slave to fashion.” As the girl flopped down on a seat in the compartment on the correct train, she realized that playing soccer with Marco and the neighborhood kids had given her more stamina than she thought she’d had.
The foreign exchange service that had brought her to Germany, now in it’s infinite wisdom decided that instead of returning the way she came, through Hamburg with the other students, she would travel alone and all night to leave by plane through Schiphol the next day. It was timed so that she wouldn’t even need a room when she got there. The train could absorb the expense of the fee that it would require to baby-sit her in some hotel just to get her to the airport the next day. They figured if she couldn’t sleep on the train she could sleep on the plane. Either way the economy of the purse was more important than the wealth of her sleep.
Now she was here in, Enschede, waiting for another train in this long day that would get her to the airport in Amsterdam by morning and onto a plane by noon. A plane home, a place she’d lost track of for a year.
More images took up residence in her mind. This time it was her Mom and Dad. How would they look after a year? Mom would be in summer whites, a coral necklace resting against her throat, and who knew what color her hair would be. Dad would be practical. Denim shorts, alligator shirt and sandals. Mom would plant coral lipstick on her cheek and fire off a thousand questions. Dad would get her suitcase and herd her and her yammering mother through the airport. Content to let the girls talk, he’d locate the car in the parking garage. He would get his news from her later in a father-daughter chat over a snack of chocolate chip ice cream and coffee. And, what would she tell him? Some of it wouldn’t go over well. Like the night she had to ride the bus all night just to get another foreign exchange student home because he was too inebriated to read the bus schedule, much less stand up. An innocent movie date turned into a fiasco. It was to go see a movie on the American army base, a movie in English. After the movie, they went over to the base bar. He drank beer after beer, all she could do was keep propping him on the way to his host’s family home. The long ride home, all the bus changes, her German mother’s rage, demanding where she’d been. No, she would give her father the edited version. But, she would tell him the ice cream story. Most of all she couldn’t wait to see her sister. Even though her sister would want to pull every item out of the girl’s suitcase and hold it under the light and check for quality, she would endure it just to be able to hear about her sister’s latest romance. Her sister was so entertaining in the way she described all of her dates down to the last detail.
Suddenly she was jolted, half-dazed out of her reverie by the sliding and squealing brakes as the train came chugging into the station.
Announcements of the new arrivals squalled out in several foreign languages from all corners of the station. She glanced up at the overbearing time piece, then sunk back into the bench. Her train would still not be in for another hour. Picking a book out of her backpack she decided to read. But, she couldn’t stay interested in it because she was distracted by all of the poor people rushing about trying to catch up with the impartial metal doors before they slammed shut on them, the rider. She felt genuine pity for the portly mother shaking hands with her children, tears in her eyes as she watched them head off for another year in private school. Everywhere she looked it was a rushing sea of people, even this late at night. They surged onto platforms. Sucked in as if by a vacuum, the train sealed in the passengers and deposited them into compartments. They were left to sigh away the day or, chat with whomever they fancied. The late night crowd was different than the day time one. There were noticable behavior changes after these particular passengers boarded. Assorted numbers could be seen hanging, draped over windows, puffing idly on cigarettes. They stared into the void or the nippy advancing evening. Boisterous swing shift factory workers made insolent remarks at traversing people. Still others brandished beer cans singing love songs to unknown passing girls. People who had retreated behind their newspapers didn’t act as if they acknowledged the disrupters. She couldn’t figure out why. But in time, though she felt sorry for some of them, she was relieved when the ocean of mocking and distressed faces disappeared as the train eased out into the dark and away from the station.
Through all the helter skelter she noticed a tall stranger casually coming her direction. To her surprise he wasn't in a hurry like all the rest. As he strolled up her eyes darted in a protective manner across his form. His jet black jacket crinkled as her strode toward in long blue jeans. Wide eyed she glanced up at him.
“I sit here, do you mind.” He asked in German. His voice was smooth which she thought was unusual for a German.
“No, here, let me move my things to give you some room.” She returned in the same language. She pulled her legs down and in a flustered motion she tossed her back pack down on the ground next to the suitcase she slid over. After she did, she returned her legs to rest in a new position back on top of her baggage. She decided to look bored because she hesitated to speak again and she was unsure of her German grammar. He slid his hand into his jacket and foraged out a pack of cigarettes. Shaking them against his fingers, he took out a filtered stick.
“Nah?” He said as he offered her one.
“Ok,” she thought. “European guys really have a thing for offering girls cigarettes.” Then she remembered how, when she went to the dance with her German sister and her friends, guys were always offering girls cigarettes. There was one guy who used to light a cigarette for one of the friends then give it to her, “It’s like he wanted to be close to her mouth or something,” She thought further. Because she did not feel quite so polished about her grammar she decided not to resume the conversation.
He shrugged, cupped his hands around his cigarette, lit it, then took a long pull off of it. He sat back and expelled the smoke all at once like her older German brother did. Once again she pretended to be interested in her book.
Ignoring that she had picked up a book, he spoke again, “What train do you wait on?”
She looked at him with her sea green eyes, the eyes that longed to see more of the world than she’d already seen in the past year, and decided that in spite of how she felt she should probably be polite and answer him. She said, “The train that is coming soon.”
“You are not German, are you?” He blew out another mouthful of smoke.
She thought, “Damn, my grammar.” She didn’t answer but her eyes questioned him.
“How can I tell?” He prodded her book, “Is in English, Ja?” His slightly condescending gun metal eyes showed amusement.
She admitted, “No, I'm not German, I am an American.”
“Your German is good. A northern dialect, I think.” He continued.
“Who was this guy?” She thought as her eyes questioned him again as if to ask a superior at a factory if she had put enough cinnamon in the pastry.
“I speak five languages. French, German, Dutch, Italian, and English.”
After he said this she began to think he was arrogant.
He turned sideways to look at the clock. She just then noticed his age. He must have been about thirty-five. In profile he had a strong determined jaw line. She shivered, The night was growing cold and all she was wearing was jeans, a light shirt, and a sweater.
“My train should arrive soon.” He stated as he turned back.
“On this track?” She asked.
“Ja, I go to Amsterdam. You?”
“I'm going there also.” She added.
“Good, I will get us a compartment.” He decided.
“Commanding German,” she thought. But it had been a long day on which the girl had been riding the rails. She yawned, and replied, “Ok.”
Just then a whistle screamed.
“So….here is our train.” He looked down the end of the track at the light pulling closer to the station. He nodded at her suitcase under her feet.” He motioned to it. “Give me your baggage.” She felt as if he were looking through her not at her. She slung her back pack over her shoulder as he picked up her suitcase. “Wow! That damn thing is heavy.” He groused as he lugged it to the train. “What is in this? Bricks?”
The steps made a hollow metallic sound as they climbed onto the idling car. After they entered, the doors shut sealed them in.