At 5 o’clock this morning, I found myself in a queue to get through security at Dublin airport. It was moving sluggishly, like a lazy snake. Every time it took a bend, I caught sight of a young man a few meters in front. He was nineteen or twenty and slightly lanky. He had a gentle face and blonde hair, which flopped a little to the side. He was crying.
At every bend his face grew sadder and when I saw him take out a crumpled tissue from the pocket of his jeans, I discovered tears in my eyes too. I wanted to reach over the barrier, touch his wrist and say “Skype is great, you know” but I couldn’t because the night before, when LSB had left me at my garden gate, I ran away up the stairs and to my toilet so nobody would see me crying.
I lost him after he went through security but he had a face and expression which personified every single Irish short story about grief and emigration I have read.
There were quite a few empty seats on my flight. I was on the aisle, with a space between me and a neat-looking man at the window programming things on his ipad. When the cabin lights were dimmed for take-off, I tried to turn my overhead reading light on but it was defective. The man stretched across and turned on the middle reading light for me. I thanked him and he smiled.
I’ve only been here a few hours but moving from the east of Berlin to the west is like ageing thirty-five years in a day. Gone are the punk bars and graffiti. Gone are the anarchist posters stuck to trees. It’s quieter, more leafy.
I was thinking this anyway, on my way from the S Bahn stop, on the lookout for a snack. I found a kebab joint and ordered a falafel sandwich. I sat down on a steel table outside, with my luggage wrapped around my feet.
The two men at the next table stared at me.
“Where were you on holiday?” the older one with a moustache asked.
I explained that I hadn’t been on holiday but was coming for work.
“There’s no work here,” he said.
“What are you drinking?”
He ordered me Turkish butter milk. It came in a yoghurt container and was full of salt and bubbles.
“Ever had this?”
“Where are you from?”
“How much is a kebab in Ireland?”
“We’re not German either. I’m Turkish and he’s Greek. We’ve been here thirty years. It’s not easy coming here new.”
They told me I would need a work visa if I didn’t want to work “Schwarz.” (The German language rather offensively refers to “schwarz” or “black” as the colour of transgression.)
I told them Ireland was in the EU.
“How much rent you paying?”
I told them.
“I could get you a flat to yourself for less.”
I gratefully declined.
“You living around here? That street there?”
I was arrested by his guess and didn’t deny it.
When he guessed the number I became frightened.
I told him I didn’t know yet.
“That street’s full of alcoholics. You could have a place to yourself for less. Who you staying with?”
I texted LSB and asked him to call me.
We spoke in Irish. I waited and waited. The Turkish man eventually got bored and left. The Greek stayed behind. I paid €2.50 for my falafel sandwich. The Turkish butter milk was on the house.
I was worried for you! Sounded positively creepy, luckily he went off on his own. Hope you are doing well back in Berlin, stay safe and keep the posts coming!
Thanks Clariice, I really got scared towards the end. I can’t describe how strange it is to be gone again. I don’t quite know what’s going on anymore but it’s great to have an adventure. LSB and I have a dream of coming back to Ireland in a year and renting a little house by the canal together. How do you feel in London? Are you used to it now? Do you feel it’s a place you’ll stay? Thanks for the encouragement. I’m trying to write more often so I improve more naturally instead of pouring over every word which is a bad habit I have!
It’s good to have a shared dream. I hope it will come true! And when it happens, I would like to pop over for a visit some day. London is an interesting place – I am not sure what the future holds for me yet. It’s a lull period for me and I think there will be some changes next year but I dont know my direction yet.
London has been the start point of my inspiration and creativity. I am used to it in a way but at times, I am still learning. However, I am more vigilant these days about meeting strangers -takes time but you will build it up eventually!
Not so much a ‘dream’, more a ‘to-be-carefully-executed-plan’ 🙂
Great piece, from sad to creepy in no time…
The plan’s already in motion, in a way 🙂 Thank you Gorgi, the sad to creepy transformation is my favourite ❤
That sounds quite scary, but you handled it very well.
“They told me I would need a work visa if I didn’t want to work “Schwarz.” (The German language rather offensively refers to “schwarz” or “black” as the colour of transgression.)”
We have the same expression in Ireland though. The “black” market is all the illegal trade and work and business.
That’s very true, I never even thought of that. In Germany if you travel without a fare they call it “riding/travelling black” too. Ah, racism..
Whooo, I felt scared at the end there. Glad it worked out okay.
Black market isn’t racist. Although I know the old Christian white is good black is bad thing is probably racist in its background. Black market is from the German I think (Schwartzmarkt???) and its called black because the deal is done in the dark, or at night, out of sight in other words.
I was left wondering what the buttermilk was like?
The buttermilk experience sounds absolutely terrifying, and I’m glad it didn’t go to further scary places!
I feel the need to share my own Irish emigration story here. When I was leaving for Chicago, my mum took me to the airport and did the queue for check-in with me, and then tried to insist on coming to the top of the security queue with me as well. I thought this was excessive and would not let her. She was very teary, but I was holding myself together and we said our final goodbyes at the top of the escalator. I did the snake all the way to the top of the security queue, keeping my mind blank, boarding pass in one hand, clear bag of liquids in the other.
As I came around the final bend of the snake and approached the end of the line, I spotted my mother standing at the barrier directly behind the security desk, waving at me like a mad woman with a big grin on her face. I burst into tears as I was handing my documents to the security lady and then I was shuffled through and my mother was out of sight and I continued to bawl as I took off my shoes, removed my laptop from my bag and walked through the metal detectors.
One of the most surreal things about that experience was no one paid the slightest bit of mind to me. I was literally inconsolable, proper loud hiccuppy sobbing all the way through security, and everyone just respectfully averted their eyes as I reclaimed my stuff and went to sort myself out in the bathroom!
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Actually, there is no “butter” inside that. It’s simply yoghurt, salt and water. That’s all 🙂