I came clattering down the stairs to find the train already humming, its destination sign was flashing which means departure imminent. I franked the ticket and ran. The train was right down the far end of the platform. As I came pelting towards the front carriage the doors closed and it began to move. I could see the driver sitting gazing at me from his little cubicle. I said, in English, “You’re kidding, right?” and blew him a sarcastic kiss. And guess what he pulled up again, just ahead, and opened the long row of doors for me. Oh! I said in German, “O! Das war lieb!” He couldn’t hear me because the window was closed. I laid my hand on my heart to thank him. As I climbed in the other passengers looked up, startled, and one man said knowingly, “Ah! Extra Service!”
Another time I watched as a lumbering skinhead with terrifying facial tattoos made his way slowly down the cabin to where an older man sat slumped in his sleep, all alone. Everybody tensed up as the skinhead said to him, “Hey!” I was wondering should I go up and intervene. His next words were, “Hey! Du! Alles ok? Geht’s dir schlecht?” Hey, you. Everything ok? Aren’t you feeling well? He touched the sleeping man on his shoulder and shook him gently. The man muttered, he was alive, everybody’s ok, the sun is shining.
Two years back when I was living in Friedrichshain I used to ride back and forth on the highline between my house and my beloved’s. The sensation of speeding among the treetops along an invisible rail was one that always cheered me. The red medieval bridge that linked our suburbs was built in Victorian times: the train zips along its brick turrets and either side down below there is the river. I glanced up from my writing to see an older man gazing with an expression of indulgent fondness, as though I were his granddaughter. “Schöne Schrift,” he offered: lovely handwriting. “Danke!” I said, and we both smiled and I went back to my compelling page. At the end of the ride I clipped up my pen, closed the page, gathered my gear and as I got up to leave he was nodding and nodding. “Alles schön aufgeschrieben,” everything written up nicely, he said, with as much satisfaction in his voice as though he had written something of his own.
Then yesterday I started to want to write something just as I left the house. All down the street I was towing it like a balloon, bobbing under the trees that have appeared rather suddenly, like umbrellas opening, in the short week we were away in the countryside. Someone has been decorating the city with Spring. I jogged down the stairs and sat down, and pulled out my pen. When the train arrived I got on it and kept writing. You know that intent feeling when you daren’t look left or right, you must keep following the scent underwater with your nose until you find its home cave, that treasure. Just as I reached for my mountaintop – balloon, umbrella, cave – a large man standing nearby said, “Guten Morgen meine Damen und Herren, Ihre Fahrkarten, bitte.” Tickets, please. He went first to the woman on my right and I just pressed on, shaping a tide of sand across the page. The outer part of my mind was tensed waiting for the interrupt. That tiny spurt of rage interruption invariably brings to the writing tide. Matchflare underwater. Dimly I felt how he had moved past me – so cultured! – asking the people standing further up the carriage for their tickets. When I was done writing and had capped my pen and zipped my bag I saw him and his colleague gathering themselves at the doors and he didn’t even catch my eye, I had the ticket out to show him because I wanted him to know I wasn’t trying to evade justice and had played fair, they were chatting casually to each other and jumped out at their door and I jumped out at mine and though the staircase was clogged with drug dealers so aggressive they will actually stand in front of you to ask what do you want I felt high and unstoned and free, like the train that curves among the treetops, in this city which respects art and respects thought, in these people.