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.