New Year’s Eve. Budapest. 2014. Common hostel kitchen. Corkboard with pinned taxi phone numbers, walking tour ads and well-wishing postcards from warmer locations. Scrap of paper in the middle, diligent handwriting, no exclamation marks, “Every friend was once a stranger”.
<This story got stuck somewhere between March 2017 and today. Happily, it has been found>
Zurich airport is the one I know quite well. There is a bookstore where I pay respect when changing gates.
This time, there was more; there was an adventure beyond the gates. You know that feeling of doing something for the first time. When you know you will be just fine, yet feel that tremor of, “what if I do not manage”. It was like that.
My rather simple route included the following: Zurich Airport-train-train-train-Nyon and then the reverse. Both trips somehow felt like looking through a stack of postcards. Whatever the view outside, it seemed just exactly ready to be taken a picture of, signed and sent on an around-the-world adventure with a colorful stamp. Part of me was overjoyed every time I understood bits of Swiss German. I quickly learnt that making full sentences in German was no longer on my abilities list. Despite (considerable) efforts only Spanish would come out. There I was, buying mineral water in English, smiling politely and leaving behind a timid “danke schoen”.
This stranger looked at me with utmost curiosity as I was giving it my all trying to place luggage in an overhead compartment. I’m exactly 5 foot tall. I have never considered a career as a flight attendant. Chino (as I would find out 1.5 hour later), offered to help. Chino was Swiss, looked as one would in his early forties and was vigorously munching on a pack of Doritos (it later turned out to be his lunch). Chino smiled, confirmed his ability to communicate in English and was kind enough to create space for acquaintance.
Chino appeared to be just a regular passenger on a train but turned out to be a human-shaped collection of awe-inspiring experiences. A baker making life-size cakes shaped as tanks or beetle cars. A traveler who has visited 80 countries. A hard worker with 8 months of 16-hour work days in Switzerland to enjoy the rest of the time in Brazil with his little ones. Somebody who knows how to move cheaply around the world working on cargo ships. A cyclist with a route across the ship deck to pass messages between the crew members on a trip from New Zealand to Philadelphia. An avid hiker on a 300-km walk through Pakistan towards a visa and away from deportation. Attendant of an opera performance in New Zealand for 1 million people and beach concert of Rolling Stones in Brazil for 2.5 million people. A person who allowed himself to enjoy life as it is.
Chino told stories of a few fellow travelers that he would randomly bump into every couple of years. Chino was one of those people whose eyes shone of faraway places, of adventures, of that special light, “I know a secret. It’s beyond the line of sight”.
I said Chino should write a book. Chino said it did not interest him. Chino liked baking for the joy of his customers when the cake arrives and being able to see how the fruits of his works make others happy. With books, Chino said, the author is too far removed from the joy in his/her readers’ eyes.
Chino got off to see his friends and to catch a return train a few hours later. That’s what the second bag of Doritos was for. If you bought two, there was a discount.
Maybe, just maybe, I would become one of those people Chino randomly bumps into every couple of years around the globe. Stranger no more. Human-shaped stories.