I sit waiting on the balcony overlooking the station, drying off from the rain and trying, unsuccessfully, to connect to the wifi. I had arrived by train to Munich from Budapest, where I am studying, earlier in the afternoon. The departure of the night train to Paris was not until 11pm so I had spent the afternoon walking the city, and exploring an old cemetery I had stumbled upon until, the midsummer’s rain chased me back to the station. The chilling air of the storm had replaced the warm humid air of the day, as I sit there in my damp clothes shivering. I had at least had the good-sense to put my grey, button-up cardigan in my backpack when the rain had started, and now put it on, pulling sleeves over my hands and wrapping my arms around myself while I wait for my iPad to connect.
The station is large and echoes with the sound of the thunder and the patter of people’s feet, walking to and fro. I sit watching people going different places or locked in long embraces saying goodbye, until I see my train roll up to platform number 12. I am excited to finally be able to get onboard and relax. I step up into the City Night Line train number 40418, and walk down the narrow aisle lined with cabins until I reach number 119. Sliding the heavy door open, I step inside the small room, three seats on either side. I am the first in the cabin, and I slide my backpack onto the silver metal rack above, checking my reflection in the small mirror, running my fingers through my damp hair and quickly braiding it before putting in my headphones and settling into my seat.
I remember distinctively when he walked in, sliding open the cabin door. I am disappointed because, after a long day, I am enjoying my solitude. He is tall and fit with blondish-brown hair, tousled but not too long and wearing dark framed “hipster” glasses. He steps into the compartment, saying hello and pointing to the seat next to me indicating that it is his. We exchange pleasantries and he places his bag on the metal rack next to mine. Pulling out a magazine and taking the seat next to me, we settle into a mutual silence.
A few moments later that silence is broken by the entrance of a couple in their late twenties, with matching dreadlocks, and, clad with all-natural hemp shirts, reminiscent of modern-day hippies. They say hello, as I take off my headphone and he puts down his magazine. Again, pleasantries are exchanged, and the guy, wearing a beanie and full scruff, asks where we were from. I answer that I am from California, but studying in Hungary, and they replied that they too are from America, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Next it is his turn, he replies that he is from Germany and is on business to Paris.
As our new cabin mates settle in, we start talking. He asks me about studying in Hungary, and how I like living in Budapest and I ask him what he does for a living. I tell him that this trip to Paris is my first solo trip, and he tells me he works at Adidas and had to take the night train because he lost a bet over the Euro Cup final in which Spain had beat Italy 4-0. I also was not suppose to be on that train, I was supposed to have left the night prior, but as fate would have it, I had missed my chance by 10 minutes. We talk in great length about the differences between Americans and Germans, and he tells me about his experiences in the States. We joke and laugh and get along nicely, time fleeting.
Finally it is growing late, and after talking for a few hours, we need to sleep if either of us plans on functioning in the morning. He takes off his glasses and I put my headphones in and we soon drift into a simi-slumber, being rocked and every once in a while jolted awake by the changing-over of the train’s wheels as they meet new tracks, taking us robotically into the night. Our hands touch, then my leg grazes his, and we both notice but neither move, and neither say a word. Enjoying the trill of the unexpected and unsolicited human contact. He is definitely handsome, and more importantly, fun to talk to, I think to myself.
An immeasurable amount of time passes in this half-slumber state until, realizing that we have been stopped for a while we start to stir. Voices from outside come creeping into the cabin but I cannot understand what they were saying. They are speaking German, and picking up on that, he stares straight ahead, straining to hear, then, turning to me, states that the train is broken down, and has been for a few hours, we are two hours behind schedule with no timeframe for when we will be on our way. He listens again, and then informs me that there is another train that is going to Paris arriving at that station in 15 minutes. “We should get on it.”
Not knowing any German, and barely knowing how normal delays like this were, I panic a bit at the thought of abandoning my original plan. Do I step out of my plan and trust this complete stranger, all be it a very cute one with a sexy accent. Having half a second to think, as he is already grabbing his bag, I decide to jump in head-first, taking the risk and following him, out of that cabin, down the long aisle to the door of the train, where he helps my down onto the gavel of the tracks. Within moments we were walking in the cool, foggy morning, breathing in the fresh, what was it German or French air, I couldn’t even tell you where we were, all I know is we are somewhere between Munich and Paris, but far from the plan. Climbing onto the platform we stand, waiting, and watching as more and more half-dazed people trickle out of the incompetent train.
Standing away from the others in grey mist of the early morning, groggy from lack of quality sleep, and using all our energy to stand upright. He asks me for a piece of gum, which I do not have. Silence again. Then the train pulls up to the station and it is crowded with people heading into the office on their daily commute. The doors of the train close and we stand between two cars, causing the doors of the first class car to keep opening and closing, pissing of the well-paying patrons. “Lets move” he says to me, and I follow him, trying hard to keep my balance with the natural motion of the train.
In the food car we find a small spot at a table. He leaves to get us coffee and returns not long after balancing the two cups and a German newspaper. He drinks his black, as I struggle to open two sugar packets, trying desperately to make the tar-like coffee somewhat bearable.
We stand across from one another, a man reading the morning newspaper to my left, and the window directly behind me. We talk, he looks at me, facing each other for the first time, I hold his gaze.
As the green countryside gives way to houses, and then to multi-level buildings, the end of this journey and each other’s company becomes evident. He mentions that if he has time we should grab a drink, to which he asks for my phone and puts in his information. Pleasing, was the thought of having made such a random friend.
The train pulls to a stop at Paris Est, we climb out, and walked down the platform, discussing where we are both staying. He is explaining when, mid-sentence he stops talking, having made eye contact with someone on the platform. She is looking at me, and as he approaches he grabs her shoulders, and then her face and kisses her.
Not expecting this, I put on a smile as he introduces me to the girl who is still looking at me with suspicion and distain. I tell them I must go, say goodbye and I turn and walk away, ready to be far from the awkwardness as quickly as possible.
The further I walk, the faster it fades, till, all at once I realize where I am. The second of disappointment I felt could not compare to this excitement that replaced it. While our chance meeting had been great, and we would, in all likelihood never meet again, I was already engaged. Engaged to this city, and absolutely free to indulge in it every ounce of myself, a novelesque train-romance would have to wait for some other time.