I stood behind an elderly man in line for a ticket. He tipped his hat to the lady across the counter and said, “One ticket to Molsheim, please.” On receiving his ticket, he yet again tipped his hat to the lady, flashed a smile at her and left. I had to get off one stop ahead of Molsheim. I asked for a ticket to Duttlenheim. She gave me the ticket and I followed him. We both stood at the platform waiting for our train to arrive.
I would see him nearly every weekend on my travel home. I worked in Strasbourg, France and home was in Duttlenheim. I enjoyed living in Strasbourg. It was more dynamic than home. However, my mother, who lived alone at home, loved company on the weekends. That and her delicious apple pies. Duttlenheim was less than 25 kms from Strasbourg and the train made the journey less than half an hour.
Over a period of time, I noticed this old man. He took the same early morning train as me. He always asked for a ticket to Molsheim but got off the train, along with me, at Duttlenheim. I never understood his pattern. Initially, I thought it must be a mistake or just a habit he couldn’t break out of. But every time I saw him, I was tempted to ask him.
On one such Saturday, I grabbed the empty seat next to him. I watched his wrinkly hands flip the tattered pages of the book he was reading. I couldn’t make out the title. I made polite conversation at first. He nodded and replied with a gentle smile. But I was losing time. We were fast approaching our stop. In a hurry, I blurted out, “You always buy a ticket for Molsheim.”
His face turned red. He was embarrassed. I apologised profusely as I was sure I had done something terribly wrong. “Oh don’t be sorry, child,” he said, “It is just when I was younger, someone told me once that Duttlenheim….” He hesitated. A few seconds of silence later, he continued, “That Duttlenheim means…” He faltered again. Finally he took a deep breath turned his face away from me and said, “Duttlenheim means breasts.”
I controlled my laughter as his face stayed beetroot red for a while. He tipped his hat at me as a signal that the conversation was over; he went and stood by the door. I followed him as I had to get down too. His modest behaviour made me want to give him a tight hug. However, I did flash my sweetest smile at him that day as well as every other time I saw him.