Watching the Girl on the Bench
The month is March and the air is still cold, crisp and cutting. I am waiting on the train platform in Stuttgart, Germany and I had just missed S-Bahn 1, the train I need for the ride back home and the next one arrives in exactly 18 minutes. In Germany, the trains run with the precision of a Swiss wristwatch which is a reflection of the entire German culture. It’s too cold to sit and although most of the benches are empty, I stuff my gloved hands into my pockets and lean on a pole, waiting patiently for the train, relieved that the day is over and I am at last on my way home.
A young Turkish boy with a cigarette between his lips and headphones blocking his ears walks past me, his arms crossed over his chest, his scarf tightly around his neck. Three women walk by, chatting lively in German, gesturing wildly with their hands. I haven’t the slightest clue what they are talking about but I can decipher that it has something to do with gossip about another girl they all know–one of them is presumably imitating, making faces, talking in a different tone–and they all start laughing. They sound like a gander of geese when they laugh. This isn’t just them because I think most older women sound like geese when they laugh together. An older man who looks like the eighth dwarf from Snow White and an older women walk by slowly, not saying a word to one another, both looking in different directions but holding gloved hands. Then a small Asian girl sits down on the bench close to me.
Black hair, slightly wispy and very straight frame an angular face. She is not stunningly beautiful or maybe not beautiful at all. But very pretty, extremely attractive, like all her features are exactly where they should be. It is odd to look at her because there is nothing about her that asks to be looked at and yet I feel compelled just the same. She does not wear make-up on her eyes or gloss on her lips. Her nails are not made up and her hands need lotion. She is not wearing gloves and her hands are in plain view. They are slightly cracked, cold and I have a sudden urge to hold them. She didn’t spend any time on her hair although it is not messy. She has the beauty of a small child-natural and simple. But she is looks very much like a complex woman and she is by no means naive. I can’t tell how old she is–she has the face of a 17 years old girl but the demeanor of a 27 year old woman and in all honesty, she could be any age in between and it would seem right.
I notice that the three women who sound like geese when they laugh are looking at her. They look and they start to talk about her but she doesn’t notice this. They seem to say things about her that are don’t seem mean but don’t seem nice either-they only feel compelled to talk about her. Like art. It does not demand conversation but you feel you should say something. Not saying anything is like ignoring it and that would be worse.
There is something about the girl on the bench and I realize that I am thinking about her in the same way that the three women are, that if I had someone to talk to, we would be talking about the girl on the bench too. There is something about her simplicity and her plainness that is compelling and intriguing. Actually, I think now that she is rather beautiful and I only wish I knew who she was, what her story is. In this cold and depressing weather, she is like an image of home, and there is a warmth about her. Maybe we are all looking at her because, in the cutting air, she is the warm hand we wish we were holding.