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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Little, stray bird. By John von Daler

             The little, old Russian sat on the edge of the bench in the train station in Copenhagen. Beside him to his right on the platform were two plastic bags filled with clothing and souvenirs from his stay in #Denmark.

            On his left, seated at the back of the bench, was a young Danish woman dressed in thigh-length shorts and a cotton pullover shirt with long sleeves. On her feet were practical, thonged sandals. Her brown hair was cut short and straight. They sat quietly waiting for his train.
            He had already thanked her several times for the hospitality of her commune. Now he sat silently and watched the commuters on the next platform as they scurried to get to work.
            He had asked expressly to be accompanied to the train by any one of the young women in the group. The young man he had approached last year in #Gorki Park seemed surprised not to be asked, but at this point he had given up trying to understand or much less predict what the old man would say or do.
            After all, it is not normal to wash out free plastic bags and hang them to dry. Nor is it customary to make a strong pot of tea on Monday and to use it as a kind of condensed starter for the next three days, pouring hot water into a quarter cup of the strong tea. Nor would anyone in the commune ever have purchased a 2 kg. sack of potatoes to eat for dinner every day of the week, as the old man had, explaining that he did not want to impose on their hospitality for his meals. It was enough with the free room and bed.
            The young man had never entirely understood how the old man had discovered him playing his accordion in the park in #Moscow. But they had started to talk. It turned out that the old guy was quite the expert on the great Danish defeat at #Dybbøl in 1864. In fact he knew more than most Danes about their history.
            He needed help from a Dane to get to Denmark, signatures on visa applications and such. He would love just once to see the country of his studies and of his dreams.
            When asked where and how he lived, he described his one-room apartment in Moscow. He shared it with another old man who lived on the other side of a sheet that they had hung from the ceiling to divide their room. They never spoke. It was better that way.
            The applications had not taken much time to fill out and sure enough the old man had been allowed to take the train to Berlin and then on to Copenhagen. The young man had promised him temporary lodgings in his commune.
            The Russian had also taken the train to #Dybbøl, to hear the echoes from the great Austro-Prussian war-machine of 1864 as it had hacked and smashed the Danish ego and soul down to size. Then he had lived in solitary wonderment with them in the commune for a couple of weeks until someone had suggested that perhaps he should go home again.
            So here he was today at the train station. The train to Berlin had finally backed into place. Now his homeward journey was about to start.
            The young woman whom he had asked to accompany him suppressed a yawn and stood up to give him her hand. He remained sitting on the bench and with parallel hands made a kind of downward supplicative movement. He wanted her to sit back down.
             Now he looked her in the eye for the first time today.
            "I want to ask what you may think is strange question." He stopped to give her a chance to answer. She remained silent. He cleared his throat.
            "May I, I know is very personal, but I want #memory... to #touch, how should I put this... touch with my finger... no my hand... your knee."
            He stared at her face. She waited a moment as her mind sorted through the dangers or threats that could be contained in this request.
            "Just one touch," he added.
            She looked at the clock above the platform. His train would be leaving in six minutes. She tried to imagine for a second what life would be like for him back in Moscow. She could not. Nor could she interpret the place of her knee in his universe.
            Finally, she nodded, yes.
            He looked gratefully at her and then turned his attention to the bare knee between them. His right hand descended quickly onto it lest she reconsider. It lay still on her flesh, shaking slightly but otherwise motionless, like a little stray bird that had landed there to die. Then he looked up at the clock. Removing his hand, he got up, smiled at her and walked onto the train. He did not turn around or wave.
            As the train pulled away she saw him sitting by a window. He stared out the window and up at the ceiling of the station from the moving vehicle. He's waiting to see the sky through the window, she thought. To see a bird fly.



                                Don't stray
before you have seen
my book:

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