Link

A good marriage

Amsterdam Zuid – Leiden

“I walked 3,4 kilometre today.”

“Hmm.”

“That’s what it says.”

“Yea.”

“Including two hours in the concert hall.”

“Tja.”

“Cycling counts too, though.”

“Oh.”

“4331 steps. And it’s almost tomorrow.”

“True.”

“What about all those stairs though. I guess they don’t count.”

“No.”

“Not fair.”

“…”

Link

Oh, how the times

Leiden – Groningen

“They’re young. Must feel like a lifetime away”, Willem puffs. I laugh. Look at us, four grey heads, worrying about our kids’ pensions. “With the current interest rates…” Thea nods, her face serious. And there it comes, home-made coffee and sliced raisin bread. A grin spreads on my face. It must be over forty years ago we travelled to former Yugoslavia, I remember laughing at oldies like us. “Oh! Did we tell you?” Thea sounds excited now. “We’re going to be grandparents.” I hear the smile in her voice and I feel grateful. They are-a changing. I stick the raisin bread between my teeth to receive my coffee.

Link

I just wanna ride my bike

Heerenveen – Schiphol

“It’s my first time on a train today!”, he says. I chuckle, and the conductress smiles.

“And how are you liking it?”, she asks. He grins and gives two thumbs up. She moves on, then changes her mind and walks back. “How come you haven’t used a train before?” Her eye sparkles as if she asks for an intimate detail.

“I live on Ameland, there’s no trains there!” She nods, understanding.

“I see. Enjoy your day sir!”

Link

Second impressions

Amersfoort – Hilversum

A pair of dirty sneakers stretched out onto a suitcase. Two bags and another suitcase. It’s a six-person compartment, but it looks full. I slow down, annoyed, doubtful. Then I make eye contact with a friendly pair of eyes, belonging to the dirty shoes. She pulls her case out of my way, “Plenty of room! When no one’s here I’ll spread out, but come in!” My face softens when I sit down, while she continues in the same breath. “Yup I borrowed fifty cents, but you paid for the boat, so all in all, about fifteen euros.” I startle, but then, concealed by luggage, I spot a second face.

Link

Suspicious scents

Schiphol – Zwolle

I sniff him – suspicious! He’s next to me, waiting for the train to stop moving. Only a few more seconds, then he’ll be gone. I scour him for details. Are his shoes dirty? Or his fingernails? A large yellow suitcase with the letters AMS, but no clues as to where he flew from. I breathe in again, unmistakeably smoke. Fresh, I’d say, but he doesn’t strike me as having recently had a bonfire. “Station Zwolle..”, shit. He passes me, taking the suspicious scent with him. I quickly google the words ‘fire’ and ‘Schiphol’, but the first hit is an article from 2012. With a sigh, I re-open ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’.

Link

Knolpower

Zwolle – Leiden

Awesome, the newest Enzo Knol-vlog. Nibbling on a ladyfinger, he silently thanked mom for the ten bucks they got every week for something to eat on the train. He tried to open a Kinder Chocolate onehandedly, listening to Enzo talk about pizza. Didn’t that Haribo-bag have little pizzas as well? He looked around. Oh, Job took the bag. Job always got everything, he also took the only set of headphones. Some lemonade then, he thought, good that his mom prepared his flask this afternoon. Keeping his eyes fixed on his phone, his fingers found his lemonade, and without missing a second, he zipped his Knolpower-bag back up.

Link

Tattletale

Utrecht – Rotterdam Alexander

Like everyone in this compartment, Tycho had an open study book in front of him. Something-something anatomy, but he kept getting distracted. The beeping and vibrating of his phone, lady-behinds passing by and the frantic typing of the girl next to him. What would she be writing? Tycho tried peeking at her screen, but couldn’t make out what it was about.  After ten minutes, she tapped the shoulder of the boy in front of her and passed her laptop without explanation. Passing notes in the year 2019. Tycho held in a chuckle and suppressed the urge to raise his hand. No one likes a tattletale!

Link

Frustration management

Lelystad – Steenwijk

“Why do teenage girls giggle?”, I type into my Google search bar. Maybe there’s a good reason, I think while my hypodermic irritation bubbles. It started with two, in front of me. Now there’s three more behind me. It’s spreading. “By stimulating other girls to giggle with them, a we-feeling is cultivated, which gives an impression of power.” Yes, I figured something like that. But can’t they just do that quietly? An extra high pitched note startles me, and I close my eyes. Then I let my tongue droop out of my mouth. No shame, lions breath. Let it go.

Link

Protagonist

Leiden – Delft

He understood life better than others. His delicate grey coat, buttoned-up neatly, his pointy nose and sharp eyes registering everything. His curls were not quite pulled down by gravity yet. In every story, he would be the main character. He could do things others can’t, he noticed things others didn’t and he looked straight into the camera. His type was easy to estimate, he was the cunning, intelligent man with a complex backstory. He got up and walked to the exit, a bounce in his tred. He shook his hair out of his face, almost in slow motion. The doors closed right behind him. Abruptly he was pulled back – his backpack stuck between the door! As his face flushes, my image shatters.

Link

You never know

Heerenveen – Schiphol

She occupies three seats, one for her, two for her bags. Annoyed, I pull up an eyebrow. She jumped the queue when entering the train too. She rummages through a bag, and I chuckle. This is how my mum would pack; stuffing a set of towels in a beach-bag last minute, tied by its handles to the hand luggage. Because you never know! Clearly prepared for anything, she pulls out a neatly folded plastic bag so she can put her feet on the seat opposite her. Seat number four claimed. I smile openly now. Who cares. Plenty of room!

Link

Innocent yet annoying

Amsterdam Zuid – Almere

Civilised annoyance right and left, but they’ve got no leg to stand on. One woman appears mildly amused, the rest of the compartment radiates anxious aversion. They are in the connection piece, not the compartment, the rules are different out there. And they don’t actually bother anyone. One gentleman looks like he might get up, but changes his mind. A girl demonstratively inserts her earbuds. I’m curious and look around. They are stretched out on four chairs, heads back, loudly laughing up their lungs. I chuckle. Innocent, yet annoying.

Link

Dame d’Complain

Delft – Leiden

Vincent scrambled for a different topic while Cora complained about her son. “I could sell my house for a good price, but there are no properties to buy back!” His voice was too loud. Cora glanced sideways, annoyed. “Toine’s not taking care of himself. He lives on scones and cigarettes. And he is very careless about time; he is always late!” I decided to help him. “Vincent. I love your jacket! Is it the same one you wore on the Coolsingel?” Vincent rose up but was interrupted by the intercom. Cora grasped her opportunity. “How they mumble”, she complained. “Someone should teach these people to articulate.” Vincent opened his mouth, but Cora didn’t give him a chance. “Don’t even, Vincent, – .” She continued, but Vincent and I unitedly stopped listening. At least they were off Toine.

Link

Cold and sweet

Delft – Leiden

I tap the plastic with a vague sense of doom. Not at all what I expected. They can’t spell my name, that’s the first myth confirmed. I thrash my straw through the goo, the texture is closer to a slush puppy than a coffee. I push the cup to my lips, if I cross my eyes I can see how the brown muck slowly crawls my way. Are you supposed to drink it or spoon it? I stuff the straw back in and try again. Jesus, cold! Ice-coffee, hence the structure. The flavour is a familiar one, but why… Another slurp and there it is. Oreo!

Link

Black on white

Amsterdam Zuid – Almere Centrum

“Can you cut these?” I bristle internally. He walked off before I noticed. “Properly”, he had added over his shoulder. And I am fucking doing it. I shake my head but continue cutting. Nine o’clock, still working for Paul. I háte him. Most names on the cards aren’t familiar, but I push on through, with a precision that deserves a medal. Suddenly he’s there, Paul Schimmelpenninck, in neat Arial-print. Black on white. I meticulously cut him out. For a moment I hold him in my hand. The decision appears to take itself. My hand screws up and Paul crumbles into the trashcan. I smile before I start on the next sheet.

Link

Call me crazy

Leiden – Amsterdam Zuid

You used to be called crazy for talking to yourself, it was completely normal now. She chats into space, occasionally grinning shamelessly at her reflection in the window. I often notice headphones too late, for a second I actually thought this girl was crazy. And yesterday a bearded man had angrily scolded a tapas display. I assumed the man held a phone, but in walking past, I saw that the man held a thumb to his ear and talked into his pinkie. Only then did I notice the somewhat maniacal look in his eyes. Annoyed, I shook my head. Not even all earphones have wires now!

Link

Mothertongue

Zwolle – Schiphol

“It’s like it is on the road. Red means wait.” I glance sideways with a mix of embarrassment and tenderness. Jaap loves speaking the language he spoke with his mother, any opportunity he gets. “Two minutes late we are,” he translates the Dutch intercom for the Asian boy across. Effortlessly he falls back into his Kiwi accent, warm memories of his mother and our early days bubble up in my chest, thirty years ago it must be. He stubbornly continues to speak English the entire way, to me as well, so as not to exclude the boy. In getting out I see Jaap has tears in his eyes, the familiar motions of his mouth awoke something in him too. I squeeze his hand. We understand each other.

Link

Selfie-game on point

Rotterdam Centraal – Utrecht Centraal

Let’s give it a try. He holds his phone up the way he sees his grandsons do it. The screen remains dark. Settings maybe? Ah there it is, the inside camera needs turning on. Again. Now he sees himself looking back, a close resemblance to his father. White hair and a cheerful, wrinkled Japanese face. He moves his head to find the angle in which his bald spot is least noticeable. Damn, his arm is too short. How do those boys do it? He rummages through his bag to find his selfie-rod. Skillfully he attaches his phone and shoves it upwards. That’s better. Still shiny, but good enough for Facebook. He nudges his wife. Cheese!

Link

Lederhosen delight

Leiden – Den Haag Centraal

He turned once more, a cheerful look on his face. Would anyone notice? His face gleamed. Would they think he was weird? Or interesting? Would they think was going to Munich or a theme party? Expectantly he looked around. No one responded, but he felt eyes linger. He enjoyed the attention, his bold white stockings, his green hat. He wasn’t someone to cut loose a lot, but he didn’t mind standing out at all, he thought proudly. He repositioned the shoulder straps of his lederhosen carefully. Getting crazy with it, that’s just what he was like.

Link

A woman you can count on

Almere – Zwolle

He stared out the window with astonishment. “A windmill. And another one! They are everywhere!” He saw the giants far away and close by, it felt like the train almost hit them. “It must be windy here.” His wife didn’t respond. At home in Australia they also used windmills, but not so many and not so close by. He couldn’t stop looking at them. “Whoop, now we’re underground.” It had gone dark around them, excited he looked around. “And we’re up again! Are we almost there?” His wife looked at her watch. “It’s five past. I’ll put on my coat at seven past.” For a short while they sat quietly. She kept a close watch on the time, at seven past exactly she started pulling on her coat. Content, he followed her example. He could count on her.

Link

Big brown eyes

Leiden – Almere Centrum

I bend down to fish my laptop from my back, and there she is. Whoa. Big brown eyes look back at me with interest. For a second I freeze, this is unexpected. Then I smile. My laptop is open in front of me, but my attention is long gone. My eyes keep finding her next to me. She stares back with curiosity. What a beaut. My defence of carefully crafted arguments is melting gradually. For a little one like this, I don’t need a larger house. I also want a lap-cutie with soft floppy ears…

Link

Being adventurous together

Schiphol – Zwolle

“High-five!” She looks up at me cheerfully, my little lady. “Told you we’d make it.” She sounds cheeky. Before I can find my seat she’s already sitting, coat on her lap, book in her hand. I can’t imagine a better travel partner. She used to make me sandwiches and a thermos each morning, so I could have breakfast on the way to work. Back then we didn’t have much time to travel by train together, only after retiring did I realise what a deprivation that had been. Not that she was overly sociable. I chuckle. She promptly dove into the world between her reading glasses and the page. But still, how lovely to go on adventures together.

Link

Losing his train-flower

Heerenveen – Schiphol

“Is that it?” Sybren gaped out the window, bouncing in his seat. I chuckled, Sybren was a grown man, but it seemed that the novelty of everything stirred up his childlike curiosity. “It’s dirty, isn’t it. Yeah, I think that’s it”, Sybren nodded. He was fidgeting. It was his first time in a train, something he proudly told the conductor earlier. Each time the intercom sounded he had shot up. “Yep, did you hear? This is Zwolle. They will disconnect it here.” I nodded along, smiling slightly. I wondered what levels of excitement Sybren would reach at the airport.

Link

Travel girls

Zwolle – Schiphol

I have a soft spot for travel girls. Tan skin, natural look, that’s my type. From where I’m sitting I just catch her sunbleached bun over the headrest of the seat, unmistakeably a travel girl. My assumption is backed up by the presence of two huge backpacks in bright colours, with variable items dangling from it. A little girl with a big fat bag, I love it. Schiphol was on this track; her destination seems like a no-brainer. She gets up. Wow, a miss like this is rare! Her bun looked like it was about twenty years old, but when she turned around she revealed herself to be closer to fifty. My face hot, I slumped in my seat, evading her eye.

Link

Words from the closet

Zwolle – Leiden

With tears in his eyes he reads back his own words. Did he write this? Had it been this dark in his head? The text calls upon images that haven’t surfaced for years, but ones that are part of the foundation he’s built on. He feels that old pain again. Not in the same intensity, now like a shadow in which he recognizes his own form. He feels compassion for the writer of this text, and a gushing pain, but also gratitude for his current life. He has been out of the closet for years, comfortable with himself. One by one all negative figurants left the picture that is his life. With mixed feelings he pulls himself out of his own words, back to the reality of the day. Leiden. Almost home.

Link

Stamp of approval

Breda – Tilburg

Too bad. She wasn’t exactly good-looking. Hopeful he gazed around, but his eye kept landing on the girl opposite him. Her make-up was sloppy. He cast a glance behind him. That was better. Also a blonde, but skinny. But he could hardly turn around on his seat. He considered the girl ahead again. She looked fragile. Not physically, she was quite bulky, but emotionally. If he sat next to her he could look the other way. But she would probably take that the wrong way. He glanced backwards again, pretending to check when they would arrive in Tilburg on the screen. Shit, she looked back. The second he caught her eye he turned back, shrinking in his seat. Well, at least he didn’t have to switch seats, risking his dignity.

Link

Trouble shared

Steenwijk – Almere

He struggled to keep his eyes open. His wife had spent ten minutes fussing over the bun of the oldest, yet she hadn’t found time to brush her own hair. She had bags under her eyes and her skin was grey. Trouble shared was supposed to be better, but he predominantly felt annoyance towards her. He commemorated the times he felt like this because he’d had a fun night. Now this was the standard. Objectively it wasn’t her fault, but that’s how it felt to him. She was the one with the biological clock, now they were stuck with two monsters who seemed to take turns standing by their bed at 4am. He showed his youngest the sheep outside and gazed over her shoulder at the grey drudgery of his life.

Link

Exceptionally unremarkable

Steenwijk – Zwolle

It was hard to say whether he was 25 or 45. Some guys were like that. He was balding, but that wasn’t it alone. He had the face of an accountant that had been unhappily married for at least forty years. He wasn’t dressed overly young or old, it really was all in his face. She still estimated him in his late twenties, but immediately wondered what happened that made him look so way-worn already. Worn wasn’t exactly the right word, she thought. He looked like he never got to living but unexpectedly got stuck between tax returns and mortgage interest comparisons. Dusty. She turned and all thoughts related to him immediately evaporated.

Link

Wise-ass Whack-a-Mole

Zwolle – Amsterdam Zuid

Now and then a little blond wiseacre would pop above the backrests. She reminded him of a meerkat. He couldn’t quite explain, but it made him feel oddly cheerful. She sat six or seven rows ahead and they just happened to stretch in perfect synchrony, peering over the seats. Not that it took him much effort with his 2.05m. But he noticed how she had to stick her nose in the air to see anything at all. Her inquisitive eyes amused him. He estimated them to be of approximately the same age. He imagined her traveling home after work, he thoroughly enjoyed how playful she was. Whoopla, there she was again. His smile broadened. Content he leaned back into his seat. Wonderful, he thought, how faith in humankind was restored by one inquisitive girl.

Link

Tilburg

Together they bend down over the book. “Look at that penguin!” Helga had lost interest a while ago, but Ans was firmly set on crocheting her fifth grandchild an animal, just like she did the others. The first two had cherished them. Her son wasn’t the type to spoil his kids, you could tell by the way they responded to gifts and toys. Her daughters’ kids were raised differently, their animals were probably buried in a toy box somewhere. She didn’t care, the gesture of giving was most important to her. Helga never understood. “Those kids lose interest after two days and you spend months working them.” She smiled to herself. The effort was her way of welcoming these babies on earth. 

Link

Delft – Leiden

My attention is grasped by a muscular woman on a pole. Almost instantly it fades and I keep scrolling. McGregor with an award. Like. Oh, funny, Danielle posted a fragment from Friends. About Joey and a woman wanting to try a bite of his food. Halfway through the fragment I remember how it ends and I keep scrolling. Bored, I switch off my screen and put my phone in my lap. For a second I stare blankly into space. What time do we arrive in Leiden? I get out my phone to check. 19:45, right. Changing trains on the same platform. Mechanically my thumb taps the colourful Instagram icon. A woman on a pole.

Link

Zwolle – Leiden

She feared lagging behind, he thought. That must be it. She couldn’t stand feeling disadvantaged. She was suspicious about the weirdest things. Right now she worked herself forward with liberal use of her elbows, probably out of fear she would be denied a place to sit. She caught his eye. “What. Don’t expect me to stand the whole way.” Resigned, he nodded. How much more pleasant her life would be if she stopped assuming someone was trying to strong-arm her. “Baby”, he tried again, carefully. “If we are fined – “ She threw him a ferocious look. “If you think I’m gonna lay down thirty quid to travel on an overcrowded train”, she snarled at him. He thudded down in the seat next to her. The train was half full at best, he thought, smiling internally. He knew better than to point that out.

Link

Nijmegen

“The conductor has mistaken the time, but he is on his way.” Typical Harry, he thought, letting go of the intercom. Harry was the most chaotic person he knew. No wonder they weren’t taken seriously here in the South, this nonsense would never be tolerated in Rotterdam. What bothered him was how he was always the one cleaning up the mess. First calling management to check who should have been here, although he could have guessed it was Harry. Then speaking to the passengers and informing them of the delay. For secret Santa last year Harry had gotten a calendar, in hopes of helping him create some order in his existence. That idea was evidently built on a fragile foundation of hope and optimism. It was never entirely clear whether Harry just forgot he had to work, whether he wasn’t sure when he was supposed to start or if he just lost track of time. In the distance he saw a figure hurrying this way, a balding head with a flushed face underneath. He rolled his eyes. About time.

Link

Heerenveen – Zwolle

Severely annoyed he stared at the abundance of colors on his screen. He pressed the green circle, but nothing happened. Damn it, his grandson had explained it all this morning. This program was supposed to give him access to all music he could think of, a clear improvement on the twelve songs he currently had on his phone. His grandson had helped him with that as well, he had thought that was quite the invention at the time. He had to admit that those same twelve songs had started to bore him, and also the idea of all imaginable music right here in his pocket had appealed to him. His grandson had assured him that this program hosted a wide range of music, not just modern rap but also his favorite classics. All good and well, but he first had to get this goddamned program to open, he thought. Testily he tapped his screen a few times more. Right away three, four, five programs opened. Sweet mother Mary, he thought wearily.

Link

Delft – Leiden

“Why do I keep doing this to myself”, he says with a smile on his lips. I smile with him internally, I know how much he likes this. “Do you want to practice a little?” I nod. “Hana, dul, set, net”, he starts chanting. My head feels foggy, I’m tired. These lessons together are fun, but I can’t help but think about how Tobias wants to act on his lessons. Too late I notice he stopped reciting. Momentarily my eyebrows pull together. Shit, what was four again. Dul? No, that’s two. Damn, what was going on lately. “Da -”, I start hesitatingly. “Daseot!”, he exclaims triumphantly. He’s only sixteen now, but in a few years anything can happen. The haze behind my eyes grows denser. What if he really wants to go?

Link

Zwolle – Almere Centrum

It was a cacophony of ringtones and languages. He heard Indian, Farsi and passionate Spanish. A traditional nokia rang every few minutes somewhere behind him, neglected by its owner. In that same area someone was now yapping at her phone which she had fished all the way from the depths of her purse just moments ago, when it started asking for attention with its tinny ringtone. And all this on the day he forgot his headphones. In theory this hour of commuting back and forth was useful for finishing his homework, but in practice this train was always full, usually with even more noise than today. Next to him a student was texting busily over his opened book. And he even had headphones. He squeezed his eyes together and bend down on his notebook. Come on, push through. Mass divided by density is..

Link

Leiden – Zwolle

They were chatting elatedly. She loved it, particularly in public like this. Francine sounded incredibly posh. Her own r’s rolled nicely as well, but Francine really brought it home. After spending time in the company of Francine she always felt she had risen in ranks herself. Francine was about ten years younger and a grade higher on the social ladder. At the moment she was telling a story, throwing in French words and phrases right and left. She was talking about the wife of the gardener of her son’s second house in Bretagne, with a nonchalance clearly showing her lack of perspective. “Simply marvellous”, Francine concluded. During their monthly lunch meetings she would dream away on the sound of Francine’s voice, much the same as she used to so when she read books about ladies of nobility. Francine’s tone was the physical representation of the life she could have had, with the immediate realisation of how happy she was with horizons a bit broader than Francine’s.

Link

Zwolle – Schiphol

He glanced sideways and saw how her marker hovered over the paper. She was studying a summary. He looked at the title, but it wasn’t a course he taught. She was blankly staring at the page, seemingly not taking anything in. He softly touched her arm. She startled. “I’ll miss you”, she answered his unasked question. “We’ll see plenty of each other”, he answered, although he knew that wasn’t what she meant. He read it in her light green eyes. He was crazy about her, that much had become clear to him over the last few days. This weekend had been amazing, but once back at university things would have to change back to the way they were. She’d have to start calling him “sir” again. Two more years before she would be done, he thought with a hint of desperation. Was she worth looking for a different position? His head ached just thinking about it. Her head was resting against the seat while she looked at him with a glimmer in her eyes and a little smile on her lips. One more night, he thought, he’d think about it in the morning.

Link

Steenwijk – Heerenveen

A vague trail of cigarette smoke could be strangely erotic, she thought absentmindedly as she followed the conductor with her eyes. It reminded her of the time she would shamelessly flirt with older guys in smoky café’s. She would occasionally still look at the type of guy she used to find exciting because they were older, only now because they were twenty years her junior. Still exciting, she thought wryly. This conductor was at least twentythree though. That wasn’t so bad. Not that she would ever have the guts to act on it. She shuddered. She couldn’t imagine what he would think, the poor guy. Back in the day things were different, she thought with a pinch of nostalgia. She used to be braver. She shot back from her nostalgic feelings when the conductor came walking back. She sent him a fleeting smile. He nodded back.

Link

Rotterdam – Delft

Sundaynight. She was starting to get used to the sunday ritual of commuting back to her studenthouse. The bored look in the train, the feeling of independence on the tram and a undefinable scent of adventure on the walk home. Her first two financial aid payments were used entirely on a new wardrobe. Her home-home clothes were so preppy and high schooly. She still wore them over the weekend, if only not to have to listen to her dad and brother joke. But for the trip home she had changed back into her student uniform. Her new glasses with the large, round frame, the baggy T-shirt printed with an ironic quote and a crudely cut, bleached pair of jeans. Very eighties. Her backpack was full of clean laundry, something she was very pleased her mother hadn’t mentioned, half a loaf of bread and a can of tomato soup she had pillaged from home. Early class tomorrow. She took a savouring breath. She loved the student life.

Link

Leiden – Delft

“How do you feel about the interior of the train?” Her face puckered. “Well, I kinda like the blue.” She thought for a second. “But it would be better if they were all separate chairs, all in different colors.” Expectantly she turned to her mother, who smiled back at her. “You’re quite right”, she answered. “It would be cozier.” It sounded amazing to her, separate armchairs, slightly wobbling, cups of tea sliding back and forth on little side tables. On the ceiling would be oldfashioned lamps, like her grandma used to have. Her mom was asking more questions, but she was barely listening. Her thoughts were with the Knight Bus from Harry Potter, which could drive through entire buildings. “How safe do you usually feel in the train”, she heard her mother ask. She didn’t have to think long about that one. “Very safe. Nothing’s happened to me in all my seven years”, she answered firmly.