You Aren’t My Kid
I’m calling this week weird, even though the reportage spans from last Thursday to this Wednesday. Mainly two events stuck out: a German mother sort of shoving her son, aged, I don’t know, I guess 10 or 11, at me as my commuter train pulled up to the platform, asking me, ‘Are you traveling to Aachen?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I get out earlier than that.’ But in her odd desperation, she said, ‘My son is traveling to Aachen’ then to the kid, ‘Honey, sit by this lady.’ Huh? So I get on the train and this vaguely plump, freckle faced kid with a big backpack hunched on his back and a cell phone he’s already thumbing in his hands, plunks down across from me in the S-Bahn. I didn’t want the responsibility for some stranger’s kid. I contemplated completely ignoring him from the get go. I guess kids his age aren’t allowed to travel alone in this country. Kids under 12 aren’t allowed to hang out and eat without an adult or older brother/sister at McD either. We have to actually first approach such kids and ask where their parents/older sibs are, and if they don’t have any with them, ask them to leave or we have to call the police to pick them up and take them safely home. OMG. In America I never noticed anyone so hyper caring about the age of child customers and, because, in America, I rarely used public transit, I had no clue about kids traveling alone on a train. But wait…
Greyhound Bus Trip
As a child, my sisters and I boarded a Greyhound bus in Iowa and took a parent planned trip to see our grandma in Iowa City for a few days. I think our parents were off house hunting but they were definitely not on the bus with us. We sat together, our small suitcases on our laps, and looked around the bus or just out the window as Iowa rolled by. No one bothered us but the bus toilet bothered me. As a tike I needed to use that ominous bus toilet located in the back of the bus. Upon reaching the door of said haven of personal relief, I was hit by the warm humid stench of a public toilet. It was filled with eu de dihorrea. I think I couldn’t really effectively reach the toilet seat, being too small at that time, so I gave up and held my urges until we got to grandma’s place. Scan back to the kid across from me in the train…
The Lone Rider
He looked happy. He smiled as he texted someone or played some game, maybe he was relieved to be free of Mom for a while. So I asked him, ‘Why are you going to Aachen?’ ‘I have a meeting with someone.’ Oh. He sounded so important, like he had an interview or a date even, but he was only 10 or 11. Ok. Arriving at my point of departure, I stood up and said, ‘Have fun in Aachen.’ He beamed, like he had plans far cooler than I could imagine. ‘Thanks!’
That night, after 8 hours of McWork, I stood in the S-Bahn, braced for the slowed car and chunking of the breaks, when a tall man with John Lennon glasses and hedgehog short hair with gray at the temples came swooping up behind me. WTF? I recognized him from several years ago, back in my old bus and train commute daze to Aachen and back to attend German language for non-German dummies. He was always in the bus as it pulled up to my village stop, and sat ram rod straight, unsmiling and rarely spoke with anyone. Sometimes he was accompanied by an equally ram rod straight young woman, whom I assumed was his sister or girlfriend, but they never touched hands or lips so I was never sure. He looked Russian to me, in the days before I realized that most Russians in Germany are pale and have blue eyes. He was olive skinned, seemed to have dark eyes and straight black hair. He looked like a snob and a nerd, which translates to, probably actually shy and smart. Back in those days, I tried smiling once in his direction, a little curious about him after overhearing a snatch of rare conversation in the bus about a French translator in a village our bus was just rolling through. I assumed from then on this guy was also a translator. Fast forward several years, in which I didn’t ride the bus or commute to Aachen any more…
Meet Mr. Lennon
He stood next to me, and as the train stopped and we exited side by side, he didn’t pick up the pace to go past me, nor did he slow down to fall behind. Instead he said, ‘You live in Village X, don’t you?’ I was taken aback. I felt vaguely spied out actually. Had I been stalked? Then I remembered, he’d seen me board the train at Village X long ago and for a year in a row, so of course. I looked down at his immaculate, pointed toe, brown leather, oxford shoes and said, ‘Yes.’ He wanted a ride. Not to his home, not to Village X but to a destination a bit beyond Village X and he’d walk home the rest of the way. I thought of his shoes, not at all proper for a hike of any distance. He explained that usually he just walked home, a considerable feat as it would involve over an hour’s hike, uphill, on narrow roads and without footpaths or street lighting the majority of the way. I knew the many webbed field and forest ways one could take here and there to avoid car traffic but at night they are generally dark, uneven, sometimes swampy even, and some of these paths cross wild pig territory and wild pigs are nocturnally active so I said, ‘No problem,’ and he apologized and said immediately that I shouldn’t worry, that he wouldn’t make a habit of asking me for rides. Some part of me worried though, as we walked to the deep end of the semi-dark train station parking lot, I recalled some years ago, after a late shift, a young black man, before the Refugee Crisis in Europe, standing in that same parking lot and asking me for a ride.
Parking Lot Problems
He’d missed the last bus. He’d have to wait til 5 a.m. for one to arrive and take him where, Mr. Lennon, just said he lived (with is parents). I said, ‘Sorry, no. I don’t know you. If you follow the road signs, it takes about and hour or an hour and a half to walk there. Or call a taxi,’ and had hurried to unlock my car, shut the door and lock it from the inside. Back then, thinking the situation was over, I’d pulled out and started to pick up speed by some glass recycling dumpsters, when this black guy jumped at my moving car and banged on the windows yelling in a language I still haven’t learned. It was that banging on my car window that sent my heart racing. I suddenly felt I might be in danger, something I hadn’t felt in that parking lot up to that point. Wind forward to Mr. Lennon standing by the passenger door of my car.
Back to Mr. Lennon
‘Get in,’ I said, but he hesitated, as if the child safety lock was on, and mumbled something. I guess he thought, ‘Ladies first,’ or questioned his motives, but I just wanted to get home, put my really tired feet up, kiss my husband and watch some t.v. from the vantage of our sofa before crashing exhaustively into bed. It didn’t occur to me that maybe he didn’t trust me. I got in after him, slamming the door, popped the CD player off remarking, ‘Pet Shop Boys,’ and pulled out of the parking lot. I drove extra carefully, noticing he kept turning to look at me as he spoke instead of addressing the windshield, like I usually do when talking to a car driver. I found this disconcerting, maybe even intimate, where intimacy wasn’t wanted. I didn’t have to say much because he jabbered the whole way. Maybe he was really nervous, or lonely, or just plain super relieved not to have to walk uphill and hour or so to get home. The night was clear, the temperature comfortable, an ideal night to walk uphill if one wanted to. But those brown leather lace up shoes were wrong for the hike. What had he been thinking when he put those dandies on his massively long feet that morning? ‘I think I’ll hit up someone for I ride home tonight’? Maybe he’d forgotten to bring his sneakers that day or accidentally left them in his place of work.
Caught in the Jaws
His chatter ranged from some school teacher lady he knew in Village Y, next to my village, her name a name I’d never heard, but then I only know one name of someone from Village Y, to what he’d studied at the university, to how he rides his bike to/from the train station sometimes (another amazingly arduous feat uphill or in the dark) and had almost been run over by a motorcyclist, blah blah, excitedly pointing at the long gone by side of the country road remarking, ‘Was that a cat or a fox?!’ He spoke quickly, fluent German, no accent, Hoch Deutsch. After a 5 minute drive that had felt like 50, I let him out at a dark stop sign, anywhere from a half hour to 45 minute distance from his supposed home, depending on what Village Z, A or B on the edge of the small town or what part of the town he called his parents’ home.
I shook his hand, more as a gesture to say, ‘Ok, now that’s the end of that’ and he shook mine with the German firm grip, mentioning his first name, like we were now pals in the night, and I stupidly blurted my first name back. He got out saying, ‘Thanks, you saved me a lot of time! Now I can get home and do some more work.’ I made a U-turn and reached home and told my guy about Mr. Lennon. He seemed not at all concerned about my random act of kindness but later said, ‘You aren’t responsible for helping him though.’ The man’s name, he said, sounded Croatian. True. The event started to haunt me.
The next day it poured rain. At the last minute, as ‘You Were Always on My Mind’ pulsed out of the car speakers, I took another exit on the roundabout and drove all the way to work and back, totally avoiding the train station. It was an enjoyable 40 minute commute and later 40 minutes back but it had cost me money. Usually I traveled with a Job Ticket. The next shift I worked found me at the train station parking lot around midnight, no Mr. Lennon in sight. I felt relieved. The next shift, I didn’t ask my shift leader to please let me go 10 minutes early so I could catch the train, instead I missed that train so I’d avoid the same arrival time where Mr. Lennon might again appear. I sat in the McD personnel lounge, reading a book about teens who form a punk band in Iowa called The Rash, and realizing, I was over-doing the avoidance activity, and at my own expense: money and timewise. I came home an hour later than The Night of Mr. Lennon and he was nowhere in sight again. I felt additionally relieved. I resolved, should he approach me again, to say, ‘I’m sorry but I think you need to find a better solution to your travel problem’ e.g. why not call his girlfriend (I believe in the babble he had mentioned one) or what about those parents he lived with? Or splurge on a taxi or even get a scooter, if not a moped or motorbike, if his job didn’t fit his personal nighttime busless train station needs. But I won’t need to say anything, as long as I don’t see him around again. Like I hadn’t seen him around since that German language course for foreign dummies long ago.