The Nice Thing About Strangers

Creative Non-Fiction Short Stories. :) Travel, Oldsters, Love, and Compassion.

Mensch!

On the long day before a set of flights home to Colorado, I helped with a Halloween party in a private Austrian school. My favorite child, Phillip, with a perpetual cowlick at the back of his head, perked up when I arrived and laughed, “Ah. Die Paige! Hallo.”

We carved a pumpkin, which terrified him. Phillip reached in to tug out a handful of seeds and shuddered. He dropped some of the slime on the floor and gasped, “Mensch!”  Then he grinned up at me through his missing front teeth.

After school, I went home, packed my suitcase to brimming with books I wanted to take home, and did nothing. I couldn’t sleep. At 4 am I left for the airport shuttle–two buses to get there, and at this hour, long waits between them. I waited for my first bus under the eye of a taxi driver. The city was warm and vacant.  I didn’t want to wait on my second connection from the Oper to the Schwedenplatz so I crossed Vienna’s wedding-cake first district on foot. Tugging my luggage across the cobblestones, I echoed my presence against the closed designer shops, restaurants, souvenir stores. Near St. Stephen’s church music met me–the stumbling drunk high school singers were tucked away in a sidestreet, but their song carried to the square.

In the final blocks to the airport shuttle stop, my arm began to rebel, but I yodeled a cheerful “hallo” to the tax drivers that lined the street. “Schöne Reise,” called the last. I gathered the strength to nod.

My intervening flights faced unending delays. Nearly a day later, on a plane from Frankfurt to Washington, D.C., I sat by a woman with ten sisters and brothers. Most of her sisters were nuns. She met her husband, a rather revolutionary priest, and he left his vows to marry her. “He preaches for the Presbyterians now.” Though her story made me laugh and sigh, a life of adventures, I was nearly dying of sleep as she spoke. She didn’t notice my heavy eyes, didn’t blink at my nodding head, but in one moment said, “Well, that’s my life story.”  The end. She didn’t ask for a story in return. I was grateful, as at that moment I could remember no life and no story, just the ache in my arms from my stubborn distrust of taxicabs, and little Phillip’s horror at the interior life of pumpkins.

–Various locations on my longest two-day travel stretch ever: Vienna, Austria to Denver, Colorado.

One comment on “Mensch!

  1. Steven Wordsmith Lincoln
    March 31, 2012

    Packed full of goodness. Your flight partner was a sister of Sisters. : >)

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