I’m currently on holiday, travelling around central Europe. Only a few days here and there. Yesterday I spent about 9 hours on a train with some people that I’m unlikely to ever meet again. That’s weird, isn’t it?
I don’t really know how to start. I met four people yesterday.
I met a four year old girl who was precocious in the extreme; who spoke Swiss-German and continually corrected my own, 17-years-rusty German. She wiped the floor with me at a game of Memory. She used me as a climbing frame for an hour, threw a tantrum when it was time to stop, and then slept for an hour and a half. She demanded to be picked up, put down, hugged, left alone. The only moment at which she wasn’t chattering in my ear in Swiss-German was when, with her on my hip, two women travelling from Germany asked if she was my daughter. Then: as shy and retiring a wallflower as you’ve ever met. I wonder what she’ll do next.
I met this child’s mother, who was elated to get some sleep while her infant lectured me on the finer points of German vocabulary while putting me in a decent approximation of a front headlock. She’d been travelling for about ten days, and was weighing up continuing her travels on the newly re-opened line to Istanbul. She’s a teacher and is getting the most out of her long holidays. She booked her hotel in Sofia at the last minute, because that way you get better deals. She spoke French, English, and German. I wonder whether she’ll get to Istanbul.
I met a woman who embodied the ideal of the eastern European babushka; a woman who mothered every person in our little compartment. She was so proud of her sons and daughters. She had so many pictures of them. She’d been visiting her son, who was packing up his life to go and fight in Ukraine. She was travelling home, to western Ukraine. She was stubborn about it. Before she left, she made a little speech in Russian. She wished us peace at the end; peace, the most important thing of all. At any other time it would have been corny. I don’t know what’s going to happen to her.
I met a someone fleeing their home with three brothers, a grandmother, and a suitcase. He looked tired, and older than he should. His brothers came to see him every few minutes, to talk excitedly about this or that. They hovered around him, seeking reassurance, giving him the weight of their fears and concerns. I am always going to remember the swollen cut on his face. I am always going to remember the strange mix of fear and braggadocio in his brothers. I don’t know what will happen to them next.
I don’t have a pithy ending here. I don’t even know what else to say, other than please consider donating to the war effort.