Rotterdam, it’s late October night and cold on train platform nine. Twenty minutes left until our train to Amsterdam via Schiphol departs. Clear night skies, no clouds or stars, and it is very cold.
We are well dressed and packed. I look at my daughter, now after the two weeks we have spent in Holland, our father-and-daughter trip for her Bat-Mitsva birthday (12 for girls, 13 for Bar-Mitsva boys). She looks excited. She has had great time here, but now she is missing home very much. That’s what she said.
In addition to the handbags that we carry, filled with laptops and things and such, she has a huge suitcase and I have a giant army bag. We are calm. We managed to stack all our shopping and gifts into our luggage bags. Closing them was quite easy and efficient. It was clear to us both that the minute we finally closed our bags was the sign that Holland is now over, freeing space for another place. We are well dressed and we feel cold. Perhaps it’s the excitement, not just the temperature. It’s ten degrees outside, and we were told that a heat wave is waiting for us in Israel.
Platform nine is empty, though other platforms are busy and trains are passing by quite often. I become concerned, perhaps we got things wrong, but no: “What are you worried about?” she asks. In fact, she determines: “It is clearly written here on this platform’s sign”.
She is right. I ask her “Let’s go to the end part of the platform. To the smoking zone. I feel like having a cigarette”. She twists her mouth, not too much though, since she already well knows me, then she looks at her big suitcase in an asking look. “You are right” I say without complaining “me too, I don’t feel like hauling our stuff all the way down the platform”.
“You feel like having hummus?” she asks.
“Yes, even though we did eat here some hummus that we made”.
“It was good, but not the same” she rules. “Something here is different. Even the falafel that you made here was great, but something with the ingredients, or the cooking method, is different. It’s not bad at all, but it’s just different in Holland”.
“So”, I suggest, “for our first lunch in Israel, shall we go out for hummus?”
“Sure, but stuffed vine leaves too. Besides” she adds, protecting Holland and the experience we’ve had here together, “most of the food we had here was great”.
“As you said, everything is different. It’s a different country, different agriculture and produce, different tradition. Not to mention the weather”.
“Right, but Holland is different from just abroad. Much different from abroad of Sinai in Egypt, or Cyprus, or Turkey. They are all considered as abroad, but it’s not the same.”
Suddenly we heard a voice, in English : “Excuse me, sir”. We both looked around to see who it was. I saw him climbing up the stairs from the hall to our platform, a tall guy, thirty-something, getting closer to us while hardly breathing.
He was Dutch, well dressed, like students or Bohemians dress. He was clean and shaved. He said: “Excuse me, sir, but I am in need. Would you mind giving me one euro?” I didn’t answer. I looked around and saw that it was just three of us on the long platform nine.
I looked at him, then at my daughter, then back at him. He was standing close to me, though not too close. He kept reasonable distance, also bent a little, to level his eyes with mine, like dogs do when they want to play with smaller dogs. His face looked very tired. My daughter was standing still, less than two meters away from me. She silently examined the man. I think she was a little afraid. He was keeping his hands in his pockets, pretty understood for that weather, yet go figure.
“I didn’t get that” I said to the man.
“One euro. I need one euro. Do you happen to spare one for me?” He looked bothered, but something in that mix of looking tired and bothered didn’t convince me. Also, there was the fact that he began his approach to us with English and not rather in Dutch.
“How did you know that you needed to speak English with me?”
“What do you mean?” asked the man. His tired face was now wearing a being-offended look. He didn’t succeed with that. I reckoned, actually decided, that he was tired, perhaps very tired, but nothing else.
“What”, I went on, trying a more aggressive tone “are you hunting for tourists? You were not here on the platform when we arrived. For how long have you been following us?”
“Not long, I saw you accidentally. Believe me” he said, breathing heavily, attempting to show his suffering, or efforts, or I don’t know what, to gain some empathy.
“And all that is for just one euro?”
“One euro will suffice. Perhaps together with some more euros that other people would give me. It’s enough for me. I don’t need much”. He had good English, with just a slight Dutch accent. Still, I couldn’t help feeling bad vibes coming from the guy. I was wondering whether my daughter was having the same feeling.
I gently raised my hand and signaled to my daughter, to let her understand that things were under control. “I am a tourist here, on my way to Schiphol, back to my country. I, like most tourists at this stage, do not carry cash money anymore. Only papers”.
“Paper money you mean?”
“No. Just papers”.
My daughter reaches me from behind, fully aware and silent, whispering in Hebrew “I wish he doesn’t take our toilet-paper with the Sudoku print, the one we bought for gifts”. “No, he won’t take anything” I tell her calmly, “he is just a little mind-scratched, not at all violent”.
I told the guy: “I also do not write check notes to strangers”.
“I understand you” the Dutch replied in a low voice.
“Fine. Then go away, because you make my daughter afraid”. And he left.
She hugged me, and I hugged her, and we both said the same at the same time “eight more hours from now and we are home”.
Then some two more people came up the platform, as well as three tourists, carrying suitcases, and some young guys and girls, perhaps students, or youngsters going to a rock concert in Amsterdam, a fairly large group of them, happy and noisy, young Dutch people of all kinds, including from Surinam or Morocco, bringing with them cardboard take-out boxes, already open, of fried potatoes and other fried snacks, and the smell, which is neither bad nor good, however, it has real presence, has taken over the whole platform air.
“What was it with that guy?” she asks.
“Nothing. Just a person with no money, not even for his first priority, a glass of beer”.
“Then why doesn’t he work? What, don’t they give here unemployment support?”
“Well, you know that me too, I don’t have work at the present” I respond.
“Fine, but you do not ask for euros from just anybody “.
“Do we look like just anybody?”
“Dad, don’t be silly. And besides,” she says, diverting the subject “I think I see the train coming. Here, it’s coming towards us”.
“No” I say, using my teacher’s voice “our train is supposed to arrive from the opposite direction. We are heading north from here”. And indeed, after a minute or two, the train entered smoothly in our platform. We mounted the train with our luggage, quite easy that was, found a good seat and took our coats off.
Then my daughter stuck her face into the cold window, trying to see things through the darkness, to reserve last views from Rotterdam, and she asks: “Tell me, dad, did you too cry when we visited Anne Frank’s house?”