My Home Town
We travel down the Rhein from Basel, turning left after Karlsruhe, crossing the mountains to reach Köln. After all these months on small roads, we now choose the motorway as time is of the essence, stopping off only occasionally at a motorway station to refuel. On one of these stops, someone calls my name behind me – it is my cousin’s husband! They are also on their way to my sister’s house, but what are the chances that we both stop at the same service station and meet each other, 300km from our destination!!!
We arrive mid afternoon and are greeted by a bouncy Bonny, my sister’s dog. We are soon enveloped by the family – the delightful and chatty Jule (my seven year old niece), my two teenage nephews who have turned long, thin and taciturn in the last half year but are equally delightful, and my sister and husband who warmly welcome us with delicious food. My cousins had arrived a few hours before us, being in a car that drives at twice our speed…
We spend the evening catching up with news and enjoying the balmy sundown in the garden where I grew up. It is so lovely to see the house filled with life and laughter and some memories come up, especially as Jule is the spitting image of my little sister at that age. That night, we go down to the river to enjoy a wonderful display of fireworks, which welcome the cruise boats coming down the Rhein.
A very nice ending to my birthday…
The next day, I have some errands in the city. I decide to cycle in. A fine mist, our first proper rain in months, accompanies my half hour cycle ride, so that by the time I arrive I am soaked through. On the way back, I start to enjoy the wetness. Even when cars drive past me, emptying the contents of a puddle against my legs, I don’t mind. It’s summer, it’s warm and I’m cycling along the flat at great speed, it’s exhilarating.
Coming back to Rodenkirchen, I see a young woman sitting on the pavement outside a shop, begging for money. When I was a child, Rodenkirchen used to be a village with a farm in its centre. It’s one of the more affluent suburbs of Köln now – I have never before seen a beggar in Rodenkirchen. This woman doesn’t look like your usual beggar either, she is quite beautiful with long blond hair, she is young and looks a bit bewildered. I stop to ask if she would like me to buy her some food, and unlike many beggars who decline food, her eyes light up and she says yes. She cannot tell me what she would like to eat, she is from Moldova and doesn’t speak German, but she repeats back to me ‘Essen, ja!’ (Food, yes!). So I go into a shop and buy a whole assortment, all of which she gratefully accepts. I leave the lot with her, jump on my bike and cycle on.
As I pedal back home, I ask myself – why was I in such a rush to get away from her? What stopped me from sitting down with her, maybe share a cup of something or some of the food, ask her for her name, reach out a hand?
To me she looked like she might have escaped some terrible story – forced prostitution or something similar. I have no idea how she got to sit on a street corner in Rodenkirchen, but likely it’s not a happy story. There is the irrational feeling that if I stop and talk, my heart will open and I will be trapped – I will have to help her, I will get drawn into her story and there will be years of…..I don’t know but in the end I’ll have to adopt her!
No seriously, what stops me from going a few steps further than just dropping off some food and running away? I have the freedom to draw a line at any point, I don’t need to draw it so tightly around me. The verdict is that in this case I have failed spectacularly to step out of my comfort zone. I have done so to protect my heart, but my heart is protesting.
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