kindness of strangers

I’m in trains

I’m in trains
Written by Cathoel Jorss,

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.

8 comments on “I’m in trains

  1. Thank you, Megan. It was a high point in my week, too. I’m very glad to hear you liked reading. Maybe next week will be far gentler on us both.

    Cathoel Jorss April 29, 2015 at 7:48 pm
  2. I was writing in my journal on a train once and the man sitting opposite behaved as though I was there for his entertainment, wanted to know what I was writing about, wanted to read it. No, no, and no. How I miss that kind of culture you talk about, which I’ve rarely experienced.

    Alison Lambert April 29, 2015 at 8:01 pm
  3. He actually wanted to know if he could read it? Far out.

    I can understand that would feel intrusive and just not on. Yikes. But isn’t it interesting how writing with an actual pen has become a kind of covetable artefact? This man’s life must be devoid of it, else he’d not have commented. Either that or he thought you were cute & was trying to pick up.

    Cathoel Jorss April 29, 2015 at 8:29 pm
  4. He thought she was cute :-)

    Thank you for this beautiful window, through which we can see a little slice of Berlin rushing by.

    Jamila April 30, 2015 at 6:45 am
  5. Ridiculously happy about this comment, Jamila. The train windows have little Brandenburg Gates stickered all over them so Berlin smudges itself with itself as you travel.

    Cathoel Jorss April 30, 2015 at 9:33 am
  6. How I hope I’m able to see Berlin through eyes as wide as yours when I see her again this summer – and how I’ll wish I’d stuck with the German classes!

    Russell Obst May 7, 2015 at 10:14 am
  7. Thank you Russell. If you’re going to come over in the summer, maybe we can drink a Bier together. <<< See? New word! You'll be fluent before you know it.

    Cathoel Jorss May 10, 2015 at 8:08 pm

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