In the summer of 2015, I got selected for a short 3 day summer school in Hamburg, Germany. Usually when I travel, I like to briefly glance through a city’s public transport system, familiarise myself with the rules, the different routes, the shortest routes to reach my destination etc. It makes me feel more secure, more prepared.
The Golf Resort at which the summer school was to take place, entailed that I change 2 trains and a bus from the airport. The public transport of Germany is quite efficient, do changing different modes of transport is a breeze. If anything, I thought it was a great way to see a new city. In one of the metro stations while I awaited the train, a dimiunitive figure happened to sit next to me on the bench. I briefly looked at her. She was rather old, had short white hair and wore a pink jacket. She appeared quite healthy, sitting upright and munching on some snacks. There was something about her demeanour, the way she sat with her legs dangling from the bench (she was short), and everytime she popped something in her mouth. It appeared childlike to me, a dash of the childhood innocence.
I looked at her again, and this time she too looked back at me and smiled. I had always heard that Germans are rather uptight and arrogant and difficult to warm up to. Hence this old lady’s smile completely disarmed me. Yet it was perhaps the most warmest of smiles that I had received in the longest time. Hesitantly I smiled back too. And then she smiled even more and appraised me. I can imagine, myself who is a very short person, a young girl from a different country, wearing a jeans and a shirt, walking with a bag in an alien metro station,bmust have seemed interesting to her. I sensed in her a protectiveness and the need to make me feel comfortable and safe.
She smiled at me more, and I could not help but feel grateful. She then rummaged in her bag and offered me a sweet. Now I don’t know how many times, around the world, every child must have learnt this line by heart, ‘Do not accept sweets from strangers.’! Yet at that moment she did not seem strange to me. Amongst the milling passengers waiting for the train, the old lady and I on a bench had forged a brief intimate relationship. She struggled to say something to me as she handed me the sweet. But then there was no need for any spoken words since our eyes met and we understood each other. I happily took the sweet from her, grateful for her short company while waiting for the train. Sometimes in a strange land, with strange environment and language, incidences such as this reassure us, calms us and signals that everything is alright.
I still remember her face, fair and crinkly with, eyes full of warmth. She was THE stranger from whom I did accept sweets. ❤️❤️
Painting by Claude Monet
Arrival of the Normandy Train