I was walking home up our rainy street when a woman popped her head up and spoke to me. She had the doors to her car standing open and was looking put-upon. “Entschuldigung,” she said, imploringly, “ich habe eine Bitte.”
Excuse me: I have a please – a request. “Yes, gladly,” I said, as Germans say, and stood waiting.
She told me she’d been looking for her phone for the past five minutes and just couldn’t find it. “Shall I ring it?” I asked, getting out my own.
She almost wrung her hands. She dictated to me her number and I typed it in and it rang. I could dimly hear the phone ringing someplace close, and I watched her bobbing up and down, sighing and pushing back her hair. It rang out so I dialled again. “It’s right here,” she said, and I offered, “Shall I…” So then we were both diving amongst the seats, front and back, or just standing still and cocking our heads to listen, like two birds.
On the third try she made a triumphant shriek. The phone in its black case was lying on the black carpet just under the lip of her front passenger seat. She was dressed in black, too, from head to toe and I had the fleeting thought that this must happen often. When I got home I sent her a picture of some flowers in autumn colours I had gathered this week on a long cycle ride across town, saying, I am glad you found your phone. I still have the number of the cool couple I met outside the hardware store who were loading up an unusually long stave of wood which he had fastened to his bicycle upright as though it were a flag. “The flag of your nation,” I said, and he said, “The flag of wood.” And so I said, “Can I take your picture? Would you like to have a photo of this?” His girlfriend was strapping a flat piece of plywood to her luggage rack. I sent them the photo, the two of them, thumbs up, smiling. That was long ago, in summer, in a different world. “Perhaps every flag should honour a tree,” I said, and they agreed, tolerantly, willing to entertain my flights of fancy. Now I picked up my bottle of milk and my bag of grapes and resumed my walk home. In the biological shop, as Berliners call a whole foods store, I had watched three little children jostle on the lime green bench by the cashier as they were waiting to go. They each had on a different coloured parka, with its hood up. The ‘day mothers’, Tagesmutter, from their little kindergarten were piling stacks of waffles and crispbreads at the counter. The whole mob of them had arrived on foot and I could see the Kinderwagen, the infants’ car, parked outside: a wooden wagon pushed from behind which was just large enough for six or eight children to sit in side by side, like visitors to a tiny amusement park riding on a tiny train. I smiled at the kids and they smiled back, swinging their legs. It isn’t the weather which keeps us here.