The Last Stop – A Berlin Story
Endstation – Eine Geschichte aus Berlin – jeztz auch auf Deutsch.
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‘The bus or train?’
Jack Precious was not ashamed of talking to himself. After all, a simple decision can change a life, and discussing it, even as a monologue, often clarified things. He wanted nothing but a speedy transfer to his hotel.
Jack was the wrong side of sixty, comfortably plump round the middle, thinly thatched on top, spot on the median height for a north-European white male and uninteresting to members of the opposite sex, unless they were widowed or divorced, in which case his more than useful pension as a retired tax inspector would make up for physical shortcomings.
He knew the bus would be quicker, but it was also riskier. Buses always are. They get held up in traffic, are subject to unknown deviations and, as a stranger in town, he hated the pressure of wondering where the next bus stop would be. Furthermore, this particular bus journey would involve a change. Always tricky in a new city. So he did the steady-Eddie routine and headed off, under the sign of a train, towards the station. At heart, that’s what he was – a steady Eddie.
Jack still doubted the wisdom of this move. The bus stood panting and hissing right outside the airport exit – the station was a full five-minute drag of a heavy case, followed by stairs down and up, in order to get to the trains. He could take the ramps, but they seemed endless. However, the weather was bright, cool and fresh so the walk seemed good.
Had he chosen the bus, he later reflected, the following months of his life would have been so different. No! That was wrong. The rest of his life altered the moment he rejected the bus. He was to be thrown from his predestined orbit like a meteor that had come too close to a star. The star was a woman. He would have missed Maria, twenty something, high cheek bones showing an eastern European origin, medium height, dark blue, darting, observant eyes, dressed in a tatty overcoat, despite the fine weather, sitting on her tattier suitcase, in the shadows of the entrance to the station, looking with imploring eyes at passers-by.
If a girl stands in the shadows, then the imploring looks do not attract much attention. He would have overlooked her, too, but Jack was a face person and noticed Maria’s face. Although not pretty, it was interesting. It looked puffy from old tears and the eyes were reddening in preparation for new ones.