Years ago (over 10 to be exact), I wrote a book about travelling around Europe after finishing university. I had never thought much about trying to get it published. Though recently the idea has crossed my mind. Especially since I’ve started self-publishing my novel, Glory.
Regardless, every so often I go back and read a chapter or two. It’s great to be able to look back at some of the thing that I had thought and done all of those years ago.
I thought I’d post one of the stories for you.
It takes place in Germany and involves someone I was surprised to have met. He showed me that there’s still a lot of kindness in the world. And, in today’s day, I think that’s a message that we all need to remember.
So, here it is: Walk, Canada, Walk.
Two trains pull into the station from the darkness of night. Their brakes scream loudly as the metal pads grab hold of the wheels and bring them to a stop. Although I’m not sure which, we’ll be getting on one of them. Anna and I, that is.
A few people wander the platform with pieces of luggage and briefcases. The tip-tapping of their feet scurry along the stone floor in no certain order. Its simply a constant barrage of steps. Some of which are accentuated by the high heels of ladies’ dress shoes. Others are the muted pound of well-cushioned runners.
As these people make their way across the room, most are talking to friends and family, or chatting on cell phones. Their voices blend into a steady, quiet hum.
There are a group of traveller’s seated in a circle, their backpack’s in the middle. They’re laughing about something. Clapping their hands to emphasize the hilarity.
Then there is the multitude of automated sounds that flutter throughout the train station. Clicking noises snap loudly from the departure/arrival signs, tiny black cards folding in two when trains the schedule is updated. A loud piercing electronic bell screams from the speakers on top of these signs every time a line is completed. There are the automatic doors that emit a swishing noise much like the opening of a vacuum-sealed package over and over again. Telephones ring. Lights flicker and buzz.
I turn to Anna. She and I are standing in a line at a concessions stand.
It isn’t much of a line since there is only one gentleman in front of us. And he’s already at the window, placing his order. There is no one behind.
It isn’t actually much of a concessions stand, either. There don’t seem to be too many things offered.
Anna smiles. I smile, then turn back to the concession stand.
It’s then that I notice two men standing to the side of it. Both look as though they’re homeless.
One is clad in a long, brown trench coat. A large dark stain runs from the front lapel down to the bottom of the jacket. The right sleeve has a long rip down its side. There is a torn pocket, also. He’s wearing a pair of worn-out plaid pants with one pant leg longer than the other. And his shoes, a pair of old worn-out black boots, have holes over the toes. A dirty pair of white socks stick out of the opening. His withered face and small hands are as dirty as his clothes. Along with the oily strands of messy blonde hair.
The other has a black bomber style jacket. It’s also covered in dirt. Though not as noticeable as the trench coat. The dark colour blends in with the grime. Not as easy to hide is the ripped cuff. The torn fabric dangles over his hand. Only enough to allow his black fingernails to remain exposed. He’s wearing a pair of jeans that are missing the knees. I can see his knobby bones.
The two are involved in an argument of some sort that I can’t make out. They’re speaking in German and my grasp of that language is reserved to two or three key words. But the expressions on their faces are so alive and vivid that I can tell there is some disagreement between them.
They bicker, back and forth. Their faces contort into such strange positions. Mouths open in disbelief. Jaws shift from side to side. Eyes squint into a deep stare.
They raise their hands. Shake their arms. Stomp their feet.
Their voices get louder all the while.
Then they start to push one another.
I believe that a full-fledged fight is going to break loose; but, to my amazement, there is a pause in the conversation, followed by a loud fit of laughter. The two embrace in a one-armed hug and walk away.
Anna looks at me with confusion. She had also been watching the argument.
“I wonder what that was all about,” I say.
Anna shrugs her shoulders.
We both fall into silence. Thinking about what we had just seen happen between the two men just a moment ago. Listening to the sounds of the trains station. And waiting for the man in front of us to finish buying whatever it is that he wants. He continues to point at more items.
Only a couple of seconds pass before we hear a voice boom directly behind us. At us. “Canada,” it yells.
Anna and I both turn to see a huge man standing there. His weight in the area of two hundred and some-odd pounds. His height reaches over six feet. On top of which sits an old, battered fishing hat.
His clothing isn’t much different than the two men that were arguing. His green canvas jacket is spotted with brown stains. One of his pockets has been ripped off. Another hangs on by a few threads. His white T-shirt underneath has a dark spot spreading across his massive chest. His pants are frayed wildly at the bottom. Reminding me of a scarecrow.
I can’t help but think that he is homeless, too.
“Canada,” he says again.
The expression on his face is difficult to read. His lips appear to be smiling and his eyes seem happy enough. But there is something else, an unknown factor, that hangs heavily over his gaze. It causes me to wonder of the severity of our situation. Whether or not this man is a nice fellow, looking to make conversation with backpackers. Or a man filled with an anger that is sneaking its way to the forefront of his mind. In which Anna and I will be the key witnesses.
“You from Canada?” he asks indicating the Canadian flag on Anna’s backpack.
In his hand is a full vodka bottle. It swishes around as he uses the neck to point at the small patch.
“Yes,” she says. “We’re both from Canada.”
By the way she responds, I can tell that Anna isn’t worried about this person as I am. In fact, her words are spoken with a pleasant air. That she might actually enjoy talking to him. Not at all what I was expecting.
To be honest, I didn’t think that she would have even responded to him. Let alone being the first of us to do so. For some reason I expected her to be afraid. That she would shy away or turn her back to the stranger in hopes that he would leave us alone.
I wasn’t all too sure that I was going to say anything, either.
Some situations are better off avoided. Especially after all of the stories I’ve heard. Of people being mugged in train stations. Attacked on city streets. I’ve been given plenty of advice to keep to myself in order to avoid these problems.
He takes a sip from his bottle.
An enormous amount of liquor swishes down his throat. His Adam’s apple bobs up and down a couple of times before he removes the spout from his lips. He tilts the bottle toward Anna, suggesting that she take a sip.
“No, thank you,” she politely responds.
He smiles at her and takes another quick drink.
“Me Hendrick,” he says, the smell of liquor shoots out of his mouth as he speaks. “You?”
Anna responds first, then myself. Both of which he repeats.
“I walk Canada,” he continues, his finger pointing to himself. “Walk, walk, walk Canada.”
Two of his fingers replicate an elaborate walking motion. They tread in mid-air upon an imaginary Rocky Mountain or Toronto street.
“You’ve been to Canada?” Anna asks.
“Yeah. Me Canada, walk Canada.”
Again, walking fingers emerge.
It’s difficult to understand Hendrick since his command of the English language doesn’t appear to be very extensive. Plus, there is a heavy accent (which I’m not sure is German or not) which coats his words. The fact that alcohol has greatly slurred his speech is another problem.
“Good music,” he adds.
He begins to hum a tune. I have no idea what the song might be. Anna doesn’t seem to recognize the notes either, but she smiles when she hears them anyway.
“Good music, Canada.”
A grin crosses his face. His eyes also lighten as he starts to hum the tune once more. This time the song is accompanied with loud clapping from his two enormous hands. I almost expect him to start dancing.
Clap, clap, hum, hum, hum.
”Good music, Canada. Nice people.” He points at us, smiling. “You nice people.”
By this time, any fear that I may have had toward this stranger as being potentially dangerous has vanished from my mind. To the point that I can’t believe I had though him a threat at all.
I continue to look at Hendrick’s happy face.
Then I hear the lady from the concession stand call me. She’s saying something in German. Which I gather to mean that its my turn.
The man who was placing his order before us is gone. Nowhere to be seen.
I touch Anna’s shoulder to let her know that I’m going to get our stuff.
“Okay,” she says.
I leave her to continue her conversation with the drunken stranger.
I walk up to the window to look at my options. There aren’t many items on the back counter save for a few chocolate bars, cans of pop, a couple of magazines and, there they are, bottles of water and some bags of chips.
The lady working behind the counter is staring at me, waiting for me to make my decision. Her blonde curly hair is frazzled in a clump of static waves while her face is anything other than electrically charged. Instead, she looks tired, bored, and angry. Her light, blue eyes pierce my skin with the demand order whatever you want and then leave me alone!
“Two wassa,” I say, speaking one of the few German words that I know. I have to raise two of my fingers to indicate the amount since I have no idea how to say any German numbers.
The lady turns around and grabs for two small bottles of water.
“And a bag of chips.”
Again, this is accompanied by some hand gestures, pointing to the chip bags on the counter.
“Please,” I say, guiltity. As though I’ve inconvenienced her somehow.
When she returns she raises her eyebrows to ask if I would want anything else. She has yet to really say anything to me.
“That’s all,” I tell her, flattening my hand and shaking it from side to side.
She must take my meaning for she quickly turns around and punches the prices into a cash register. When she finishes, she tells me the total in German. I have to squint my eyes to see the numbers on the register because I have no idea what she is saying.
The display reads 16.00.
“Sixteen mark?” I ask. That is much more expensive than I figured. And much more than I have.
I hold my hand out to double check the what’s there. The coins jingle before resting calmly on my opened palm. I scan over the pieces counting one, two, three…five…seven…eight. Its only eight mark that I have – half the price of both waters and the bag of chips.
I don’t bother asking Anna for any change because I know that she doesn’t have any. She gave me all that she had before we stood in line. And I won’t waste time checking my pockets because I emptied them out.
It’s while I’m consumed with the cost of the items and how I don’t have enough money to pay for them that I fail to notice someone walk up to the concessions stand and place himself directly beside me. What’s more is I don’t see him looking at my money.
I raise my eyes to look at the woman in the concession stand to explain my situation.
At the same moment, I feel a slap at the bottom of my hand. Trying to get the coins to fly into the air. To scatter them about.
A brief sting of pain runs over my skin. And I’m shocked. But, luckily, I’m able to hold onto the money. I have no idea how.
I turn to see who hit me.
The homeless man from before the stares back. The one who had gotten into the argument. The one in the trench coat. There is an enormous amount of amusememnt on his face. It quickly turns into a fit of laughter.
Yet, almost as soon as he found everything so funny, he shuts his mouth and his expression turns to fear.
I too am a bit taken back by what happens next. More surprised than frightened.
For almost immdiately after the man in the trench coat began to laugh, another person behind me screams at the top of his lungs. In what I gathered to be some form of threat or disapproval.
I turn to see what the commotion is all about.
Standing behind me is Hendrick. His face is covered with anger. His fist is raised in the air.
At first, I think that he might be getting ready to attack me. That the trench coat man was nothing more than a diversion. Now I would be hit in the head by a big fist and have my backpack stollen. But then I hear a shuffle of feet and see the trench coat man running away.
Hendrick wasn’t going to beat me up, after all. He was protecting me.
“Thank you,” I say.
“Nice people, Canada,” is his reply.
“What happened?” asks Anna.
“That guy who just ran away had slapped my hand.”
“My hand,” I repeat.
“What do you mean he slapped your hand?”
“He was trying to make me lose my money.”
“Yeah,” I say, remembering that I don’t have enough to pay for our items. “I’ll explain later. Let me figure this out first.”
“Figure what out?”
“I don’t have enough for our waters and chips.”
“I’ll only be a minute.”
I turn back to deal with the lady at the stand, who I can feel would like to rip my head off for taking so long. I place my hand back in front of her.
She looks at the money and shakes her head to tell me that its not enough.
“I know,” I say. “What do I have enough for?”
Instead of answering, a loud sigh escapes her mouth as she points to the cash register.
“I know,” I try again. “I don’t have enough.”
Another sigh with the finger still pointing at the 16.00.
“Its all that I have. What can I get with it?”
Yet another sigh. Though this time she adds something in order to explain the situation. Unfortunately, she says it in German, so I have no idea what she might mean. But I get the feeling that she is telling me that she can’t void the transaction because its already been punched into the till.
I shrug my shoulders because there isn’t much left for me to do. I don’t have sixteen mark to pay her.
“Sorry,” I say.
At that moment, a large hand is placed on my shoulder.
My heart stops, thinking that it might be a security officer coming to take me away because I asked for more than I had the money to pay for. That she had called them – maybe with a little button underneath the desk – and that I would be either taken to a bank machine so I could take out the appropriate amount or put into confinement for the evening to think about what I had done. The trouble I had caused.
I turn slowly.
He’s holding my shoulder, asking the lady something in German. I hear the word ‘mark’. So I assume that he’s asking how much everything that I would like costs. He nods his head and smiles while placing his bottle of booze on the counter. His hand goes in to the inside pocket of his dirty jacket.
“Nice people,” he says
He pulls loose a few coins and places them on the table. Before I’ve the chance to refuse, the lady snaps up the money and pops it into her till. She hands him the bottles of water and chips.
Not once does she look in my direction.
“Nice people,” he says again.
Hendrick passes me one of the bottles and gives Anna the other. Along with the chips.
“I thought you didn’t have enough,” she says.
“I didn’t,” I say. “Hendrick bought them for us.”
I’m a bit confused by what has happened since I had figured Hendrick to be homeless and without much, if any, money. I suppose that still might be the case and he has spent whatever he’s managed to save on us.
It’s a touching gesture and we both thank him for his generosity.
A set of domino sounds click throughout the station as the sign displays the new times for departures and arrivals. It says that our train is prepared for boarding and will be leaving in twenty minutes.
“We had better get going,” I say, motioning to the sign.
Hendrick reaches out his hand as Anna and I prepare to leave. I grab hold of it and feel the strength of his grip as we firmly shake. He does the same to Anna.
“Take this,” I say. “We won’t need it.”
In my hand is the eight mark that I was going to use to buy our stuff.
He grabs hold of the coin and looks at it under the rail station lights. Another bright smile crosses his face.
“Danke” he says – which is another of the few words in German that I understand. Thank you.
“We should get going,” I say to Anna again. “We don’t want to miss our train.”
We make our way toward the tracks.
And in the background there is Hendrick saying walk, walk, walk with his hands flapping as though he was gently brushing us away.