running the rails


I somehow managed to get on a car entirely full of English footballers. “We play a club out here, our sister Belgian club, then they come out the next year and play us.” It seemed like a long time to wait–a whole year. “But we play other clubs in our league in-between. That’s why we’re so well-fit.” The man next to him guffawed.

I found the group hilarious, and they helped keep me awake. Considering it was nearing midnight and I would’ve just slept on the train, I was grateful. I’m always afraid I’ll sleep through my stop.

A man with curly dark hair stumbled in to our car. The footballers had the rest of the space. The only seat open was across from me. I nodded politely and continued conversing with the footballer across the aisle. The footballers seemed to be middle-aged, and somehow this made them feel less intimidating to me.

Suddenly the curly-haired man slurred, “How did I get in this car? Everyone is speaking English. You–” he waved toward me…”you. Why do you speak English? Am I on the train to London?”

I laughed. “No, but I just got off that train. We’re headed inland.”

“Oh good. Jesus Christ, everybody speaking bloody fucking English I thought I’d landed in a weird place, or was having a dream or something. So, these are all English guys, and you are American? Why are you in the same car with a bunch of English guys?”

I laughed. “It just happened that way. They’re on a football team, but I just sat here by chance. Your English is quite good.”

“Me?” he pointed at his chest and let his head roll down to gaze at his finger. “Well, I guess they teach us pretty well in Belgium. ”

“It’s much better than my French. But my Dutch is okay.”

“You speak Dutch? You are insanely crazy. Why would a bloody American speak bloody Dutch?”

“I learned it in high school. I was a foreign exchange student to Holland.”

“Holland. That is a good country. But Belgium–Why are you in Belgium?” he emphasized the “w” in why  in a French fashion I cannot imitate. The “w” almost had a guttural “ch” in it the way he said it, and I’m pretty sure some spit came out as he said this.

“Ah. I just finished a business trip. But I live here now. With my husband.” His eyebrow raised at this.

“Yes, but Why Belgium? Why? Why?” (again with the emphasized “w”s).

“Well, I got a good job here, and it pays pretty well.. Plus the health care is magnificent, and as you stated, the education.”

“Why you care about the education? You have a job.”

“Well, in case I raise kids here. You know, just in case.”

“Why would you have kids in Belgium? Why? Why?”

“Well, you just said yourself they teach you well here.”

“Yes, but Why Belgium? Why? Why?!” he was now lowering his head to the table in front of us, and letting it bounce of the surface for effect.

I sighed. “Well, now you’ve got me wondering.” I laughed. I was tired, and I worked so much I barely saw my husband. It was cold and dark every day. I felt like a sewer rat going to work and coming back in darkness that was usually blanketed in rain or sleet.

“Bloody sheet.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Bloody sheeeeeet. I’m on the wrong fucking train.” Ah, shit. The accent had thrown me.

“Crap, crap, crap.” He stood, holding his arms out. “Stop the train! Stop the bloody fucking train! I’m on the wrong one!” The footballers were rolling in the aisles, such was the curly-haired man’s comic despair.

“Hey,” I tugged his sleeve. “Sit down. We’re not at a station. If you get out here, you won’t be able to catch the right train.”

“You’re right,” he said, lowering back into his seat, then lowered his head to the table again, and softly asked, “Why?”

I poked him before the train stopped, so he wouldn’t miss exiting the train. He got up and forlornly gazed at me, “‘Bye, crazy insane American.” He wobbled to the open doors and paused again.

“You better get out so you don’t miss another train,” I told him, “It’s late.”

“Yes.” His head rolled forward, and he stepped slowly down, then stood at the platform and gazed back up at me. Before the doors closed with a swoosh, he raised his hand in a wave of adieu. He then mouthed the word, “Why?”

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