It was a warm and beautiful summer afternoon. I remember it so well. I was wandering along the narrow streets in Lübeck, a northern German city.
The glow of the sunset fell lightly on the colourful high windows of St. Mary’s Church. The small round iron tables outside a vintage café looked familiar. Weren’t they of the same style of those portrayed in Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night?
With his eyes fixed on a city map spread open on the table, the elderly man put a spoonful of chocolate cake in his mouth. The woman sitting opposite him had short grey hair. She was feeding some greyish doves with tiny pieces of bread cut off from her ham sandwich, which lay delicately on the flowery porcelain plate.
I walked past them, overhearing a foreign accent. French? This was my first day in Lübeck.
Turning to a street that led me to the main entrance of St. Mary’s Church, I noticed him instantly. A very young man was sitting on the ground in the centre of the town square with his head slightly bent forward. A worn paper cup was placed in front of him, waiting silently. A few lines of words appeared on an old shoebox beside him. The colour of the script had faded somewhat after exposure to the sun. I could not read German.
Over the years, I have encountered the underprivileged in different corners of the world. The hardship of life left unmistakable signs on their faces. There must be countless stories behind these emotionless faces, but who bothered to listen?
The outline of his face suggested that he was in his early twenties. I walked very slowly towards him. In the pocket of my cotton dress were a twenty-euro note and some coins.
I bent down and leaned over to him. He lifted his head tentatively and faced my eyes. His green-blueish eyes looked blank.
I smiled to him and said “hi” with a reduced voice, attempting to sneak the euro note into his hand.
The blankness of his expression disappeared. He looked at me with such softness and vulnerability in his eyes. “Oh no”, he said quickly and then murmured something I could not hear. He was reluctant to take the note, pushing it slightly back to me.
“I’m leaving Lübeck tomorrow. You know I have no use of euros in my country. So, please take it. The sun is warm and the weather glorious. Go home and have a cup of tea”. I said quietly, smiling to him.
A thought crossed my mind. He might not have a home where he could enjoy a cup of tea. My heart sank.
“Thank you”. His voice was low and deep, his smile as warm as the summer sunset.
“See you.” I said, waving gently to him. “See you”, he said, waving back to me. His smile faded as I walked away.
Of course, we knew that. We knew we would never see one another again.
Lübeck, 10 July 2018