Journal 13 (the cursed journal), p 1-6.
Night Train from Amsterdam to Brussels.
The man across the aisle from me speaking a language I cannot understand booted a woman out of her seat like it was reserved for him and is now being interrogated by the conductor. It seems he bought a ticket for an entirely different train line! The conductor is sanctimonious (he literally wagged his finger and went “Tsk Tsk” in a way that I had previously thought purely literary) and the man and his companion are now being charged €50 each. The business is now being conducted by a different conductor who speaks a language latin in nature, different from previous. This one seems accommodating, the two men are humble now.
Moral: Booting a woman from her seat on an otherwise empty train car is a €100 crime.
Why does every large touristy downtown become a mall of trash luxury, identical to every other large European city? Tourists come and flood the market with money, and capitalism does the rest, I suppose. Does tourism exist under communism? People should go see works of art, but if there’s no imbalance, no excess, new art will stagnate and old art will die. This is maybe not true, I’ll have to ask my communist friends.
If you go to Amsterdam – stay overnight or go early, shit closes at 5.
Another strange occurrence, A man was hiding between the seats. I first noticed his sneakers, which I thought belonged to another passenger. Instead they turned out to belong to a hidden french man in a leather bomber jacket on his way to Lille. He keeps frantic lookout for the ‘con-trol’ (conductor) from whom he is hiding “Because his visa ran out” and at this he shows me his ‘visa’; an expired credit card. He speaks constantly and says things I do not understand which may be jokes in five languages, none of which he speaks as well as french. One joke that works across any border is his family: He asks if I want to see a picture of his brother. Sure, I say, that sounds fine. He smiles a toothy grin and pulls up on his out-of-service phone a photo of a dog. His phone is his lifeline. He has no data but the battery seems okay and he is always showing pictures to communicate what he means. He has a surprising number of photos; Him with a professional television camera, (are you a journalist? He asks) him at home, Him with a girl, him with another girl, a “family” of 5 or so, all selfies of him and various dogs and cats. His grandmother, notably, is a snake.
“We are brothers now" he says as we sit and I keep watch so he can relax a bit. His name is Momo, and he keeps looking at himself in the dark window, adjusting his hair and preening. He’s very clean, and has new-looking sneakers and a fancy but cheap-looking watch without numbers. Every time the ‘con-trol’ comes by he shoots beneath the seat. The conductor is either blind or is letting him pass because frequently Momo’s feet are sticking out, sometimes comically obvious. I put my feet up on the other seat to hide him better and the conductor stops “Hey, no!” he says. It’s the sanctimonious one. I panic a bit and act dumb, but he just doesn’t want me to put my feet up on the seat. From his perspective he must have looked directly at Momo’s white sneakers, but not seen them for my leather boots.
“We’re brothers now”, Momo repeats. I agree, sure. I’m not doing anything difficult or dangerous, and our little subterfuge is thrilling, but it’s certainly not me under threat of capture. He says he’s been traveling for ten days total, these last three days straight. Three days, between the two seats of trains all over the continent trying to get back to France. There’s something wrong in his description here, but I let it slide. He seems pretty concerned now, as it is night. We go over the schedule I’ve brought along and he seems to just realize this is the last train. He’s going to have to spend the night in Brussels. He won’t let me know how old he is, but he is young, maybe nineteen, and seems to have real trouble with simple math. He asks me for my “Oldario” (my how old are you) and I laugh. I think about how this is his third day of travel and how he had recent photos of him with two “girlfriends” in his phone and it connects. Ah, I think. He needs somewhere to sleep. I am in a hotel. This isn’t going to work. He mentions his suitcase several times, and how he doesn’t want to sleep in a park.
Momo leaves to smoke a cigarette, and it doesn’t occur to me for several minutes that he had asked me for a light when we first met. I don’t smoke and don’t carry a lighter, so he was out of luck then, as now. It would seem he went out to stand on the platform with a cigarette and no lighter. The train starts to move and I look around, his bag is still in the overhead compartment. I make eye contact with another passenger in a nearby seat who had been enjoying our antics, who shrugs.
The door bursts open just as we leave the station and Momo comes down the aisle walking fast, right past me and his luggage. He books it out the back door of the compartment. Hot on his tail is the sanctimonious conductor, ‘con-trol’ who follows Momo out the door and then returns, to sit on a seat and talk into a phone angrily and emphatically in a language I do not speak before hurrying back out the back door, slamming it. Momo then returns, closely guarded, to grab his stuff and be escorted off the train at the Brussels airport stop, the first stop on the way into the city. I can only imagine he made an executive decision to spend the night in jail so his stuff would be safe.
My one word of french, conveyed via google translate sealed his fate.
“That’s a real problem – but I can’t help.”
“You want to help? What? Say it in French.”
All that night I was haunted by questions: Should I have let him stay at my hotel? He didn’t seem like a thief, simply too friendly. He kept lying about stupid things and wouldn’t give me a straight answer, like about his age or what his real name was. I saw an EU passport at one point and it directly conflicted with what he was saying, meaning it was either not his or he was lying for effect. He seemed too big, too outgoing, too talkative, too exaggerated and lucky to be real, like a character from a book. He was obsessed with image, with self-mythification. Every story he told had him as the mysterious gregarious main character who appeared with no backstory in a crazy situation, not dissimilarly from how he appeared in my story. A short fiction character, ready made.
I messaged him in Facebook the next day, he responded easily and cheerfully, but wouldn’t give specifics. This was relieving, because I don’t think they’d give you your phone in prison. To this day I don’t know exactly where he is, or if he ever got where he was going. But I know he still has his phone and a smile.