|Shopping in Brugge, Belgium.|
The Help genie that Carol and Julie have written about recently found me in Brussels this week. I was waiting for a bus to take me to the central train station when a woman appeared in my bus shelter with her roller bag, walked up to me and made a funny remark about the risqué poster advertisement that covered the wall. It featured five blonde, bikinied babes holding a giant hamburger like a surfboard over their heads.
“Guess they’re not trying to sell to you and me,” she snickered. “What are they thinking?” The place was called “Miami Beach.” "It's probably like Hooters," I said. Nice to import the best of American food culture to the rich epicurean tastes of Brussels, I thought to myself.
I could tell from her accent and colloquialisms that she was an American. I learned that she is an ex-pat who has lived in Europe for the past 20 years. She admitted to recently turning 50, but she looked about 35, with that beautiful bi-racial skin that seems to defy wrinkles. We chatted about touring Europe. She was glad that I had left my hotel to travel alone.
The bus arrived and she boarded ahead of me and found a seat. I presented my 20 Euro bill to the driver only to be denied because the denomination was too large. (Before heading out, I had asked the hotel clerk if I needed exact change. Guess I didn’t ask the right question.)
So I stood there wondering what to do: get off the bus to get smaller change and wait for the next one, or give up the trip completely. Then I heard the American call out to me: “I have the fare for you.” She gave me 3 Euros for the 2.50 fare; she refused any thought of me repaying her.
We continued to chat on the 25-minute ride to the station. I told her I was from Philly. I learned that her name is Ariella, she is a PhD, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College. She has worked for the UN and other NGOs. She is an African American and Jewish. I told her the 10-minute version of my life; of Max and Bernie at home, why I was in Brussels (delivering training). She spoke wisely about being a woman in an American corporation. We arrived at the station way too fast.
She was so interesting that I wanted to follow her to Germany instead of continuing my trip to Brugge. When we entered the station we both looked up at the board and say our trains were leaving soon. She shook my hand, wished me happy travels, and rushed off to her platform.
I had a nice week in Brussels, in the classes, at meals with my European colleagues, and on my own seeing a little more of Belgium. But the memory of Ariella will stay with me for a long time. I hope that I can return the favor someday to a tourist or anyone who is in need.
Have you ever met someone serendipitously that you will never forget? Share your story.