It was nearly seven p.m. and I was exhausted. I had been running all day and I was looking forward to some fresh ice tea in a friendly café. I had nearly achieved my goal when my mobile phone beeped. It was my man...
- “where are you “ said the text. “Could we meet any time soon ?”
I rolled my eyes, looked at the waiter behind the desk and asked him to pour the ice tea into a take away plastic cup.
- “I'm not far, where do we meet ?” I texted back.
- “Darn, you're not in the city centre. Are you ? It's gonna take forever to reach you with the car.”
- “I can use public transports but don't expect me too soon”
- “Ok, get metro line Stockel and stop at Rodebeek”.
I didn't even know where to find the nearest metro station but nevermind...
I walked for a while and asked for directions. Eventually I reached the metro entrance and bought a ticket. I politely asked where to go and the employee said :
- “down below, easy to achieve”
I walked down stairs with the ticket in my hand well aware I had to stamp it. I arrived immediately on the platform and there was no machine to be seen. I got worried as the next metro was approaching. I screened the strange people around me for help and suddenly laid my eyes on him.
He must have been in his seventies. He wore a good quality suit and a wooden walking stick. He had books in one hand and a bottle of water in the other one. He was out of place.
-”Sorry to ask”, I said, “but do you know where I could stamp my ticket ?”
-”Oh, Mademoiselle, surely you can do this once you get inside the metro.”
-”Are you sure” I asked ?
-”Yes, he said. I just arrived from Chicago. I have not slept. I was heading to Bruges but half way it was raining. So I decided to come back to Brussels.
Was it meant to make me think he was a great traveller? It didn't really make sense. I should have guessed he didn't have a clue but he was so unusual ! Suddenly the metro was there and he said:
-”Come on then, hop on”.
I stepped in behind him and the journey started. He invited me to come and sit next to him with a sign of the hand. He could see I was still worried about the ticket.
-”It doesn't really matter, you see, because you look so innocent that they would forgive you for not stamping it. You bought it afterall”.
It made me smile because I knew it was wrong. But I felt at peace sitting next to him.
-”You see”, he said, “this morning I was sat next to an old bat in the plane. She bored me to death. I didn't tell her, she thought she was quite something. But let me tell you this : old ladies are scared. They're scared to get old and it makes them look ugly.”
Then he quoted Jean-Paul Sartres and said:
-”Everything has been figured out except how to live”.
-”Oh, you like Sartre”, I said. “How unusual these days”.
With a smile, he showed me one of the books he was holding. It was a Sartre book.
I was truly charmed by this. And we chatted about Sartre's phylosophy for a moment as we went on with our journey. Then at some point I said to him.
-”Very well, but I've always prefered Camus”
-”Oh really”, he said with a stange look.
-”Yes, La Chute, is my favourite book”
Then he showed me the other book he was holding and it was a Camus book.
-”Wow, I said, you're really my kind of person.
He smiled and we talked and talked and then he said.
-”Are you an intellectual, Mademoiselle ?”
-”Far from it, I said. I'm a simple person working in a little village.”
Then he quoted Camus and said :
-”Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal”
And we both grinned. And it was a such a graceful moment.
Then we spoke about life and love. He said he could never settle down with a woman because he thought women were trouble. Mind you, they probably are...
All the sudden he stood up and said.
-”This is my stop, I have to go. Goodbye.”
Then he asked.
-”What's your stop then ?”
-”Rodebeek” I said.
He looked at me all worried and said :
-”But you'll never get there with this train. You have to go back and change direction.
There was no place for hesitation and he was genuinely frowning, so I stepped out on the platform with him.
-”What did I do wrong?”
-”Well, this was the wrong train from the start. You should have taken the next one.
I smiled and said.
-”Then we would never have had this conversation.”
-”It certainly was a pleasure to speak with you today.”
Then he put me right, on the correct platform. And we stamped my ticket together. He very softly said:
-”I guess I should go now. Did I dream you?”.
I did not say anything, the feeling was mutual. And as I watched him slowly walk away I thought to myslef.
”No, this is not goodbye. This is an encounter”.
Warning : any resemblance to reality will be the result of pure chance or the product of your imagination