Saturday, September 27, 2008

Extrodinary Routine

**** I wrote this piece for my non-fiction creative writing class. I thought you all might enjoy reading it.

I am up and out the door. My keys are in my hands. Three locks twist shut and I jerk the giant brass knob once for insurance. My boots hit the cobblestone and I head through our sixteenth century two-story wooden gate. The bitter wind makes my hair fly, and my eyes squint in the mist of gray Brussels morning. My headphones wake my brain with the melodic sounds of The Weepies. Two blocks down I slide though the automatic doors of the GB-Express. The same young clerk greets me with Bonjour. I smile, and jet to the back of the store. My Friday morning essentials include: two Coca Colas, two warm croissants, and a tall liter bottle of water. My body punishes me for Thursday nights drinking heavy Belgian beer. The quick stop is all that can prepare me for three hours of Art History. The Cokes are a poor substitute in a country that does not believe in to-go coffee. My sluggish feet bump against raised cobblestones as I walk another block and cross the street. By the time I reach the escalator I’ve nibbled half the croissant and gulped down a pint of water. I routinely walk to the East end of Saint Kateline metro tunnel. The first car will put me a few steps closer to the ascending escalator when I reach Pévillion. My Friday morning timing becomes an art, and my hung over body acts like a dependable robot on her way to school.

I watch the blinking lights on the over head sign that indicate how much time until the next train. When it comes I can hear the train arrive over the music in my headphones. The sliding doors open, I enter, and push my body tight against the opposite door. Fridays are my only peak hour commute. The metro fills with school children, parents, students, Eurocrats, and businesspeople. I essentially hold my breath until we pass the next two stops in the center of the city. De Brouckére and Gare Centrale release and accept hordes of bustling people. Each Friday my Ipod and sleepy eyes give me the autonomy to observe my fellow groggy commuters. I cannot help but sympathize with nodding five year olds clinging to consciousness on their way to kindergarten. Often I see the same African women surrounded by her five beautiful children. The youngest one sits on the orange pleather seat, thumb in mouth, next to his mother. The head wrapped mother whispers, what I hope are sweet nothings, to the child sitting on her lap. She appears so foreign to me. We come from different worlds, but find ourselves whiling underneath Brussels at 7:30 in the morning. I can only assume she is an immigrant- voluntary or forced. Her children consumer her in this moment, but I am alone and grasping my bag while listening to American indy rock. Despite our alternative realities the love as she eyes her children is universal. When they reach their stop the only girl, who is about ten, acts as a second mother by corralling everyone off the train. The commute is routine, but each time it feels extraordinary.

My Friday morning commute becomes normal during my five months in Brussels. I travel half sleeping, but each time I enter the metro car I am shaken by how much I have to learn from the people who surround me. I greet a group of new and familiar passengers knowing that each has a destination and routine. I am present and part of this daily scene. My twenty-minute commute gives me a small privileged window into the humanity. We all grow a little closer through the collective burden of commuting. Each pair of feet will hit the cobblestone at the top of the platform. Their hands will stuff in wool coat pockets, their eyes will squint in the cold mist of morning, and they will begin their Fridays somewhere in this thriving city. By the time I reach the Pévillion platform the car is nearly empty. Most of the passengers are university students standing like fellow robots on their way to torturous eight o’clock classes. I exit and walk the four blocks to class, sit down, and hand Ashley her coke, croissant, and water. She greets these staples with a smile. We spend a few precious moments giggling about crazy Thursday night antics in the streets and clubs of Brussels. This week’s agonizing lecture on ancient Iranian art begins.

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