Creative Non-Fiction Short Stories. :) Travel, Oldsters, Love, and Compassion.
In every tunnel, because the darkness turns the windows into mirrors, people in the train gaze at their own reflection. They pose, pat their hair, examine their own eyes. As we break from one tunnel and the sun returns, an elderly man delights in the beams and stretches like a cat.
My neighbors begin to chit chat with me, observing that I have been writing in my notebook for almost an hour. Now, I understand German pretty well until someone speaks to me. Then my ears get hot and I forget everything. I want to reply, but the anxiety of making mistakes upends any vocabulary I have acquired. The Der, Die, and Das melt.
I fumble a bit and go mute. At least I don’t have to tell anyone that I’ve been trying to learn German for a year and a half. Hopefully they will assume I started only last week. We should go with that.
A little boy across the aisle notices that I am unable to speak. He peers at me over his pastry, then he smiles. I recognize that look of consolation. I give it to people who have tripped in public. But this boy buoys me. I smile back. I accept the kind gazes of the German speakers around me. I accept the gestures they make to communicate wordlessly that I should eat the apple they offer, that I should show them my ticket and they will tell me when to exit. I keep my grip on a shy expression and let my neighbors play hospitable charades.
Later the boy points his mother in my direction, then they both blink at me with mercy. I try to savor this chance to be utterly humbled. Vielen Dank. (I think.)
–In the train from Vienna to Innsbruck, Austria. 2008.