Strangers on a train

Soon I hear the familiar cadence of the conductor announcing his entrance. A rustle follows: all passengers looking – inside handbags, coat-pockets, books – for their tickets. The conductor is in high spirits; he nods vigorously, adds a musical touch to his Danke Schöns, raises his eyebrows in mock-suspicion. Across the aisle he looks at a ticket and exclaims “Ah! Liège-Guillemins!” as though it were the name of a long-forgotten station. At our table, after he’s done with the rest, he gently taps the sleeping man’s shoulder. The man doesn’t move an inch. “Tickets please!” the conductor says loudly, giving him a shake. Initially startled, the man recovers and hands his ticket to the conductor, who gives it a cursory glance, returns it with a flourish, and moves on.

* * *

She must be in her mid thirties; she’s wearing a green top over a black knee-length skirt. As she sits down her eyes search for the title of the book I’m reading. She pulls out of her bag a sheaf of papers and begins to read what looks like an essay. I catch only the title: “Rom/Berlin Achse”. She underlines some lines as she reads, and occasionally scribbles words in the wide margin. Is she a teacher? Or a student of history?

Suddenly music fills the air – violins singing Vivaldi – and then, a few seconds later, it stops. We look up, and our eyes meet; she smiles, I smile back. Then she returns to her papers and I to my book.

* * *

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The bus ride to work

Last week, when Wife was away with the car on a visit to Brussels, I took the 707 to work. The bus passes through Wiesloch, and the daily trip from my stop at Schillerpark to the Industriegebiet via the Bahnhof took about twenty minutes. The connection to the physical world these bus rides forced drew a sharp line of contrast to my usual trips to office, boxed inside a car.

At this time of the year, with a handful of warm days left, life appears to be at its limit: grass has broken through gaps in the pavement concrete; creepers have climbed over walls in a doomed bid to escape; insects everywhere lay claim as first-class citizens of the planet. They all will soon retreat. A faint clatter of hoofs is audible: winter’s cavalry is steadily approaching. The street that leads from my home to Schillerpark has begun to show traces of yellow; on my first walk I found yellowing maple leaves fallen uniformly along the footpath edge, matching the orderliness all around. The trees here are German too.

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