Free Write Friday Prompt for 5/11
You have been traveling by train in Europe. You wake to find that you’ve missed your stop and you are the last one aboard. You reach for your luggage in the hold above and as you pull it down a wallet (not belonging to you) falls out. You open it to find a large amount of cash…Tell me a story!
“Is anyone sitting here?”
A small face surrounded by what looks like a million cotton balls pokes her head inside my train cabin. Little bright eyes peep out from behind miniscule glasses and her skin, though wrinkly, is very plump. Her accent is definitely from some part of Scandinavia. Her vowels are just a tad too long, her consonants not hard enough and her words sort of meld together.
I shake my head at her. I boarded the train with no one; no one was supposed to join me. She comes in smiling with pursed lips. As she sits across from me, she holds her enormous purse on her lap while she rocks back and forth for a moment.
“Where are you going?”
I don’t say anything. I don’t want to tell this old lady that I’m going home to nothing, that I spent my whole inheritance on a trip throughout Europe to start over or that the attempt was a complete bust. Least of all, I don’t want to tell her what happened to the family that certainly isn’t waiting for me at home.
I don’t need her pity and I don’t need anyone. Not anymore.
“Did you hear me?” she asks, looking somewhat concerned.
Finally, I speak. “Yes, I heard you.”
She bounces back in her seat, pleased with herself. “Well?”
“I’m going back to America,” I say after as long of a pause I dare make. She squints her eyes suspiciously.
“You don’t sound happy,” she says simply. She’s right–I’m not happy. “What did you see in Europe?”
Holding back a snort, I smile.
“Everything.”And I’m not kidding. I really did see everything. Despite that, I got nothing out of it. It’s a harsh comparison, but it’s like thinking Disney Land is the most magical place in the world only to find it’s a dump. I wonder if that’s what happens when you lose everything.
She smiles in return. “Then why are you sad?”
Again, I don’t want to tell her anything. I don’t know this woman–heck, I’m lucky if I know myself on a good day. The hem of my too long and too loose shirt catches my attention. My fingers play with the fraying strings numbly.
“I couldn’t do what I came to do and now I have a flight to catch in Paris.”
That’s all I can bring myself to say. She surveys me for a moment. Her eyes pause on my baggie shirt and my tattered boots. They’ve lasted me this whole trip and I intend on finishing my trip with them. If anything, that could be an accomplishment since I accomplished nothing else in Europe.
“Will you help me?” she suddenly asks. I’m afraid to say yes, but I do anyway. She lifts her large snakeskin purse from her lap. “Will you help me put this up there?” She gestures to the rack above my head.
My relief is instant. She hands me the bag and I toss it up there. When I turn back around, she’s holding her hand out.
I shake her hand.
She smiles gently. A yawn tugs at my mouth as I sit back down.
“Are you tired?” she asks.
I guess I kind of feel that way so I nod. Annaliese suggests that I take a nap and it’s hard not to take her suggestion. Perhaps sleep is what I truly need.
That’s all she says before I completely pass out.
* * *
A horn sounds and I startle awake. Annaliese has gone. It’s dark outside my window so I check my watch. 9:13.
I bolt out of my seat and make my way down the cart until I find a conductor. There’s nobody else around and I’m starting to think the train is heading back to some kind of depot somewhere in obscure Europe. About two cars away, I find a clerk. He appears startled by my brashness when I ask him where the hell the train is.
“We are about to arrive in Berlin, miss,” he says uncertainly.
Oh, no… Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no! I’ve not only missed my stop in Paris and my flight back to the U.S., but my train ticket only covers me from Rome to Paris. It doesn’t cover me from Germany and beyond. Trying not to arouse suspicion, I tell him thank you and return to my cabin. I close the doors behind me. The tears threaten to come down but I won’t let them. I stare at the ceiling to keep myself from crying. This usually works.
Then a reflection of some sort catches my eye above the luggage rack. When I reach up, my fingers graze something made of leather. My first thought is that Annaliese must have accidentally left her wallet behind. Then I notice a slip of paper with my name on it poking out of the side. I pull it out.
It’s not the end of the world. Things do get hard, but we can always fight our way above them. You are young–don’t give up yet. I hope this helps. I hope you had a nice sleep.
PS: After I return from Denmark in two days, you come visit me in Finland. I live on Tammio.
In the leather pouch, there’s a wad of Euros. I peel them apart and find that there’s over two thousand in the stack–that’s nearly four thousand dollars.
Oh, my… I cannot accept this! My first thought is to turn it in to someone on the train to mail to her while I try to work my way back to a flight back to America. Then I consider taking the money straight back to her on Tammio, wherever that is. That’s not a place I visited. Helsinki happened about two months ago. Plus I only stayed in Finland for about a couple of days, since I was more excited about Sweden.
Knowing my Swedish ancestry is largely what brought me to tour Europe to begin with. When I got there, however, disappointment settled in worse than ever. It turns out my great-great grandfather was heavily involved in Hitler’s camp during World War II. That’s not exactly the history I was expecting. I thought being of Scandinavian descent would give my family a richer, more established history. My family wasn’t so lucky in that respect.
The realization suddenly hits that I have no choice but to use this money, one way or another. There’s no other choice–I’m fresh out of money. The last of the inheritance went to my flight and final train ride, and I screwed those up. Why didn’t I wake up at the other stops?
The train starts to slow down. Very quickly, I make up my mind, snatch up my duffle bag and shove the wallet in my hoodie pocket. Once I find the nearest door, I wait, bouncing on my toes for the train to stop and unload. A voice comes on over the intercom.
As soon as the doors open, my feet jump to the platform. The impact jostles my hoodie and the leather stuffed with Euros nearly flies out, making my heart nearly stop. People start milling out of the train around me so I don’t dare take it out to check on it. My hand stays firmly on the pouch in my pocket.
I’ve been to Brussels-Midi before so I immediately turn left and head to the ticket kiosks. I insert two 20 Euro notes into the machine and select a one-way ticket.
It’s not long before I’m anxiously seated on another train to Helsinki, watching as the Polish countryside flashes by in a blur.