Strangers & Cigarettes

This story takes place on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, when all the town is attending the local Weinachtsmarkt.  It is yet early and  I, with a couple friends, have joined the happy fray.  We’ve found our Fleischkaese, our friends and our hot punch.  In that order!

…Fun fact about Germans, they believe that if the meat – in this case the Fleischkaese – is good enough, all you really need is a bun to hold it together.  The tactless and fanciful add mustard.

The sun shines clear and beautiful, like the warm caress of someone who didn’t forget you after all.  Children run about playing while we laugh, talk, and drink punch.  People ask me if Canada has Christmas Markets, and I say “Well, they don’t serve punch, so no!” It just isn’t so pleasant when everyone is stone cold sober.  

There are only so many cups of punch a girl can drink before she starts to feel like her liver needs a rest, even if you’re chasing each glass with varying edibles. But bless their hospitable hearts, the Germans just can’t handle seeing me without a drink in my hand, so finally I except a beer (my difficult life). 

Darkness has fallen, and I take myself and my beer to wander the grounds alone, enjoying the night and the lights.  Maybe even a little quiet, off behind the stands where one can see the moon.  I wander lazily from one spot to another, find no stray dogs to play with (always a vague hope!) and realize that I’m cold and want a cigarette.  Ah! but that won’t happen, because it means I’d have to ask someone for one.  I tell myself that I’ll just  buy some in the future so I’m prepared the next time a craving comes over me. But that’s not really the point, is it? To smoke alone in the dark. Oddly enough, I realize the point is to have an excuse to interact with a stranger. To express a need and have someone who doesn’t know you from Adam, happy to fulfill it for you. You’re vulnerable to a stranger, and they except you and protect you a little. You can make more friends in a park by asking for cigarettes then can by handing out free chocolate.

Knowing that walking out into the quiet neighborhoods isn’t going to distract me from what I really want, I turn around and head back.  Because you see, I don’t want just any cigaret, I want one from a very specific person that I can see enjoying his own quiet smoke.  And I know he’ll give it to me, because like a good book, we both have lines to lead, and in the end they’re fun lines, and I can’t just put the book down because I’m nervous about the story.  It might be safe, but it would not be brave, it would be very boring, and I would never know the end.  So I walk over, very slowly, taking a round about route, amazed that I’m so hesitant about such a simple thing.  Finally I get to him, and start, “Hallo, Sprechen Sie Englisch?” At first he seems not to have heard me, or maybe he didn’t understand. I repeat myself, and finally he says “Yes!?” part statement, part question. “May I buy a cigarette from you?” He laughs, “You don’t need to buy it, you can just have one.” He takes it out and helps me light it. “Are you from the American Army station?” It’s a bit of an odd question, but I guess it’s fair. He tells me the cigarettes are called American Spirit and I think maybe he’s known some of the Americans from the Army, hence his association with me and America. We make a bit of small talk and he asks me what my plan is, what I’d like to study if I can. Without hope of being understood, I tell him I’d like to be a luthier.  He is visibly surprised, staggers back a step and almost stutters.  Then he tells me he’s a music teacher and he’s amazed that I even know what a luthier is.  I could say the same for him.  Both of us are now so interested in this conversation we start talking at once, over each other. 

He tells me they have several violins, and besides the one he uses himself, I’m more then welcome to borrow one to play if I would like.  I ask him if he knows anything about different places to study and he tells me about a school in Bavaria – the only one I already know of – as well as a few companies in Hamburg who may or may not take apprentices; he doesn’t know, but he has names and that’s a start for me, a huge start, I can do my own research from there.  My cigarette goes out while I’m talking, and at some point I realize we never even introduced ourselves. Eventually his wife comes out to find him, I’m introduced to her and she gives me his contact information because out of the two, she’s the only one who remembers it. 

We all shake hands and I take my leave, thanking him and telling him it was the best cigarette I’ve ever asked for.  And I mean it.  I’m smiling and happy.  Grateful that I read my story to the end.

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