Track Number 7
I like the darkness speeding by. Even the flashing, scurrying lights. It’s like they’re in a hurry to get there. Maybe home, wherever that is. Although I am not too fond of those expectations. Expectations that make us think of childhood, including Christmas, tinsel threads, a silver lace tied crookedly with a piece of wire on top of the Christmas tree, the nervousness of my mother who fought with the Easter Sunday chicken on Easter, and my brother who hitchhiked from Hamburg terribly hungry on such days. In those distant times, I wished for a book, next to a bicycle and roller skates. The first wish I got. Every year, even for Easter. I still have two or three of them. Christmas was dull, presents were extreme practical things.
I have to change trains and leave the lulling warmth of the train compartment. I don’t have much to carry. I am already standing on this strange platform with the number seven, which empties very quickly and then is very deserted. It’s 1:30, the night seems long. The bulletin board announces that the connecting train will not arrive until the early morning, due to an accident. I’m seeking information from a railway official; there’s nowhere anyone to find. I look for a local transit waiting shelter and discover it in the basement, pushing the door open and sit down. In the back of the corner, a man with a greasy leather hat, which he has pulled deep into his face, he is dozing. Next to the sleeping man stands a duffel bag. A garland with countless tiny lights hangs over the dead neon lamp.
I open my suitcase, fish for lemon waffles. They taste like home. But I’d rather have something to read. I already know what I’ve got. I’m falling into this silence down here, and up there, the trains are running. I bring some cookies to the man with the hat, put them in a bag next to him. “Thank you! Oh, just a moment!” His voice is deep, pleasant. With his eyes closed, he pulls on the closure of the duffel bag, reaches in and pulls something out. “Please! So time doesn’t run out.” He opens his eyes; he smiles, a knowing smile as if he knew me and presented me with a book in a dirty blue linen cover. How naturally I take it, without perceiving the title, thank you, wish you a good journey, he waves off and says: “Read.”
Back in place, my heart is somersaulting. I’m holding “The Seawolf” by Jack London. That can’t be, I got this when I was thirteen. So lost shortly after that. I missed it so much and never dared to complain about my loss out loud.
I’m crying into myself. I read and read. Remind me immediately of the story of Captain Wolf Larsen, of his seal-catcher “Ghost”.
I fell asleep sometime. When I wake up, I have to look where I am. The man in the hat is gone. I’m sitting alone in the waiting room. In front of it, a dark-skinned woman sweeps a piece of the station concourse. I hold the “sea wolf” in my hand; one finger is on page 113.
Of course. My connecting train’s gone. Nevertheless – I am happy as for a long time not, get on a train, which goes in to the City I did not want to go to. I’ll be glad later. It stops in my old neighborhood; I walk through the streets, look thoughtfully into the big park, which isn’t big anymore, I try to remember and am back home for a few hours.
The next day I go to the station. I can only remember the beautiful vault. Everything else is strange as if I had never stood and waited here before. It’s loud. The air is vibrating with unrest. My train compartment is full. It smells of plastic, of coffee, of impersonal coolness.
When we leave the station, then the city, I feel homeless and strange.