Train to Belgium – a short story
I was on my way to Belgium on a hurriedly-arranged business trip. Everything had to be organized last-minute so I couldn’t get a seat on the Thalys (fast train). I found myself on an Intercity train taking a rather long route due to construction work on the tracks.
At Breda, I was joined by an interesting group. A man of about 40 with his parents and his little son of around 2 years. The toddler was very excited to be in a train and immediately claimed the window seat opposite me. They were off to the Antwerp zoo as part of a group discount ticket from NS (the train company). The little one’s mum was at work – I was informed.
My travel companions were pleased with my broken attempts at speaking Dutch, and seemed to have decided that I was acceptable company despite being from (“pretentious” and “weird”) Amsterdam. The toddler had big, expressive eyes and couldn’t stop smiling at me while making cute but incomprehensible attempts at engaging me in a conversation.
Those who know me well do understand that I tend to get hungry every 45 minutes or so. So it wasn’t long before I extracted from my bag a large triple chocolate cookie – with the diameter of a small pizza and probably containing about 5000 calories.
The little kid was fascinated by the cookie and kept looking at me point blank as I worked my way through it. At some point my instinct to share kicked in and I instinctively asked the father “Can he have a little piece?”
I regretted my words as soon as they left my lips. The atmosphere turned heavy and a nervous silence ensued. The father’s face first showed irritation, and then graduated to absolute horror. Sharing of food among strangers is not at all common in The Netherlands. On top of that, what I’d offered the kid was a sugar bomb (as against, say, a mandarin or a small raisin bun).
Before he could answer I quickly said “Or maybe not – this has so much sugar!”. “Yes, therefore it’s not a good idea”, the father replied. His son looked confused and very distressed.
As the dad and I were negotiating the awkward silence that followed, the child’s grandmother calmly opened the zipper of her travel bag, pulled out a packet of Dora biscuits, and handed the kid a small treat he was familiar with.
The twinkle in the child’s eye was back. Life returned to our little train compartment. The Dad got his heart rate down. The grandfather, once again, started looking into the distance with a sense of satisfaction. The grandmother smiled. All was well with the world again.
I finally exhaled.