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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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..

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Zwolle – Almere

A girl danced past me. It was cold, but she wore shorts. Her hair twirled through the compartment, her butt swaying. Despite the silence-signs she had a loud, hoarse voice that didn’t seem to have a lot to say. She carried flyers or leaflets, it was hard to say what for exactly. Suddenly everything clicked in my head. The silver sequince on her shorts, her party voice and the time of year, she was handing out Amsterdam Dance Event flyers. But in a flash she reached the other side of the compartment, leaving behind a trail of colored paper. I saw how she, while dancing, had handed a flyer to most people, but she had skipped me. On purpose? Amused I pulled up an eyebrow. Apparently I didn’t look like I enjoyed a party.

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Rosmalen – Nijmegen

She was ready to go, her eyes fixed on the slit between the doors. The train stopped, the doors slipped open and with a yelp she jumped out. She started to speed up, zigzagging between children and hopping over a suitcase. She prayed there was enough credit on her card. She had left her bag in the train, but she had taken her phone with her. In the distance the yellow pole loomed. How long had she been running, thirty seconds? A minute? Her path was blocked by two students, leisurely checking in. She dove between them and pressed her card to the pink logo with a desperate willpower, skidding to a halt. Tuut-tuut. Immediately she shifted her weight to the other side and focused on the white tail of the train. She started to speed up again. The conductor was all the way in the front, he probably couldn’t see her. He had started looking around, she only had a hundred meters left to go. He brought the whistle to his lips. On the whistle, she pressed the button, still blinking in bright green. The door slid open and she stumbled inside, breathing heavily. She made it.

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Zwolle – Schiphol

Content. That was how he felt. He sat peacefully in his seat, his body swaying back and forth happily on the movement of the train. The evening sun warmed the bald stop on top of his head and he felt Karin’s warm thigh next to his. She was peering outside, periodically yanking her glasses off her head and stuffing them on her nose to write something down. He had a pretty good idea of what everyday business was like inside her head, always working on a hundred and one “arrangements”, as she would call them. “Oh just, you know, arrangements”, she would sigh, he could almost hear her eyes roll through her voice. He got the impression that from time to time she even tired herself with this control center in her head. His own head was blissfully empty. He never had to worry about anything, anytime he did think of something Karin already had it on a list somewhere. So over time he stopped worrying alltogether. Karin made sure there was food in the house, that the bills were paid and that all family members received cards at the appropriate times. He slumped down some more and closed his eyes. Time for a nap.