It was the year that Germany hosted the Soccer World Cup and we were fortunate to be in Paris when the French soccer team won a tough game with very passionate play.
What a night! The French people roared and cried at the same time. We watched them from our room as they drove endlessly through the streets below. Flags and bras were streaming from the windows of hooting cars. They yelled and the Marseilles was sung with holy fervour from street corners every fifteen minutes or so to way after midnight.
What a night!
Some nights excite the dawn!
And then we were on our way to Berlin. For a wedding, but the soccer final was also awaiting the maddened crowd on way to the culmination of a thrilled packed few weeks.
On the train to the German capital there were from time to time exhilarated noises, but somehow it gradually calmed down. I watched the passing landscape and villages intently. Enjoying the abbreviated moments to experience glimpses of life far from home ground. Cherishing the opportunity to be part of that for a moment in time whilst the sun kept burning towards its in evident extinction. On that afternoon I was missing my own children far away in Africa.
Joy and melancholy in one on that afternoon. I guess one could conclude that I was quite sensitized for what was to follow.
The train stopped at a little village. I was looking at the houses trying to spot my long lost twin brother from a century or two ago. A few people left the train and two came in to sit two or three rows back to my right.
Then I heard their voices. The man’s voice was kind, slow and calm. Calming. The child’s was lined with sorrow and pain. They spoke French, but I understood the mood. It chilled me to my bones. There are just a few words to describe the essence of the conversation that was daggering my back.
Loss of what was too precious to lose.
The low quiet words of that young girl had her drowning in in suppressible sorrow. She was pricking my soul still savouring Parisian joy.
I sat with a dark chocolate bar and for a moment I had to fight myself not to offer her that. My better judgment told me not to interfere. They were on a small boat on holy lost waters, trying to find some way forward.
All I could do was to ache for that young little French girl’s pain.
The gods were on my side. They removed the dagger from my heart. A station or two further on, the French man and the little girl stood up and left the train. I saw them outside passing the window where I was sitting. He was kindly helping her along. She just walked with bowed shoulders into some future.
I don’t understand French. I do not know her loss. But it wasn’t a puppy. And he wasn’t her father. An uncle on her father or mother’s side, I am sure. And that tells it all, I think.
I was on way to a marriage feast in Berlin. Knowing that the shrieks and shouts of a world cup final would mingle with the joy of a daring union of two individuals. But once again I got caught up with the belly of life.
So, you messenger of the gods, should you meet up with this young French girl who was putting one foot after the other forward to the space that kind people were preparing to ease her immense loss, tell her this:
I have heard your French voice and I so hope that by now you have some laughter that crept back to claim land from chaos. And there is something else too that I want to tell you. Your voice on that European afternoon sounded so alike the voices of shocked South African children that I have encountered on similar sunny afternoons on the harsh African continent.
Tell her too, ye gods, that sorrow and pain do not speak French only. Nor only Afrikaans or English or Xhosa. It is an international language. The children of bombed Baghdad, Dresden or Hiroshima all understand this language. And from there running in all directions. Into all continents. Into all centuries. Into all circumstances. Tell her that, ye gods.