Night of the living dead

Brussels – 17/01/08 08:30
 
Yesterday we attended the final wrap up at 3 pm, then we all dissipated.  I sat in the foyer, nursing a cup of Earl Grey and people-watching.  Slick Rick passed, carrying a stack of Star Wars toys, looking like a kid that had died and gone to toyshop heaven.
 
A couple of MCTs stopped to chat, to say goodbye or to introduce themselves.  Yolanda, sober and remarkably alert (seeing as she had, it was rumoured, not actually gone to bed that night), renewed her invite.  Dimitry gave me an impromptu Russian lesson and invited me to Leningrad.
 
But where was Claudia?  She and I were catching the same sleeper from Berlin to Brussels.  Was she avoiding me?  Did she hope to sneak off by herself?
 
Of course not.  She was talking.  Now, as a trainer, I could talk for my county, but Claudia is at international level.
 
Finally she appeared, and we made our way to the station.  But, ach du lieber zeit, we had several hours to kill.  What were we to do?
 
We found a bar.  Oh, come on, dear reader.  Surely this comes as no surprise to you?
 
They sold fruit beer, a new concept for Claudia, a tradition in Germany.  “Could we sample them all in small glasses?” asked Claudia.  Of course we could.
 
The waitress returned with the longest, narrowest wooden tray I have ever seen.  It was, in fact, a floorboard.  On it were balanced eight 20 cl glasses of fruit beer.  For the metrically challenged, a can of coke is usually 33 cl.  “I thought you said they were small glasses!” exclaimed our heroine.
 
 
“These are small glasses,” was the reply.
 
As Claudia neared the end of the beer (okay, maybe I helped her a little) we ate and chatted.  At one point I was aware of raised voices behind me.  Someone was arguing with the waitress in accented English, but I wasn’t listening, enraptured as always by the vision I was sharing a meal with.
 
“Excuse me, Miss, are you American?”  Oh no, we were going to be dragged into a domestic dispute.  “Do you have phone books in America?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“They don’t have a phone book here.  Can you believe such a thing?”
 
And for five minutes we were treated to a tirade about the lack of phone books in Berlin, until Claudia found herself apologising for it over and over.  They left and we couldn’t hold it in any longer.  Even the barman was smiling through his phonebook poverty.
 
Afterwards we asked for a bill (and a phone book) and made our way to the platform, amazed at where the hours had gone.
 
Claudia and I were sharing the same carriage, but we had bunks in different compartments.  There was bedlam as people (six to a tiny compartment) stowed luggage, made beds and got in each other’s way.  Claudia ordered me to help a young east-European woman with two small children and a suitcase so big and heavy a camel would have objected.
 
I misread her ticket and dragged the case and the family into the wrong carriage.  By the time we located her compartment, it was blocked by plain-clothed police.  We all gathered in the corridor as they tore up pillows, took photos and eventually lead a young girl away in handcuffs.  This was exciting stuff.  You don’t get this sort of thing on Easyjet.
 
Amongst the audience was a Parisian man who chatted with us (no-one can remain within ten feet of Claudia and not be roped into a conversation with her).  It appeared that the young girl had been snorting coke in the carriage.  The train terminated in Paris, but we were getting off in Brussels.  Claudia speculated on the possibility of ‘accidentally’ staying on the train to Paris, a thought that was to return and haunt me later.
 
I was beat, so I wished her goodnight and folded myself into my middle-tier coffin.
 
I slept fitfully until about 04:30.  At 05:20 I gave up, fumbled my case from under the bed of a young American girl on the bottom bunk and made my way to the bathroom.  There I changed.  Have you seen the contortionist act where a woman folds herself into a tiny Perspex box?  That was a bit like this.  I had maybe 10 centimetres room either side of my shoulders.  Changing socks was the worst, unable to reach my feet without a complicated manoeuvre that at one point had me wedged in one corner with my knee under my chin.
 
Suitably refreshed I waited in the corridor as the conductor woke those that were due to get off at Brussels.  Slowly the corridor filled: a group of young American girls doing the tour; a business man in a suit; a variety of people all different, but united in their total lack of similarity to Claudia.
 
Brussels North came and went.  Brussels Midi (our destination) would be minutes away, and still no Claudia!  Her compartment, unlike mine, was a four-berth.  I trod the corridor trying to spot the compartments that had been configured for four, without trying to look like a pervert.  I found one, stuck my head into the darkness and called her name softly.  Silence was the stern reply.
 
Brussels Midi hove into view.  This was getting serious.  As a gentleman, I should remain on the train if she didn’t show, so that she would not awake alone and afraid in a foreign city.  On the other hand, if I ended up going to Paris with Claudia, Er Indoors would kill me.
 
I waited until the corridor had emptied then walked the length of the carriage, calling out her name.  A light came on in one of the compartments.  I opened the door to see the rear view of Claudia climbing out of the bunk.
 
“Have you only just got up?”
 
An undecipherable grunt.
 
“This is our stop.  We have to get off.”
 
Grunt.
 
“I’ll stand on the platform and keep the doors open.”
 
I did so.  A minute later Claudia arrived.  She had her bags in one hand, her shoes in the other, her eyes screwed up against the light.  As she stood in her socks on the platform her eyes focused a couple of metres behind me.
 
There are some things a woman should only let a man see after they are married.  Claudia’s enactment from Night of the Living Dead is definitely one of them.
Half an hour later, with some slap on and a coffee in her hands, she started to become the bubbly Claudia we know and love.  ‘Bubbly’, you understand, in the sense of a can of cola that has been shaken for a minute then the ring pulled.  Claudia normally erupts into a room, and she can be firm friends with people within seconds.  You get the impression that even the woman that serves her behind the shop counter is only a moment away from inviting her round for dinner.
 
But after all the attempts by her to get me into trouble at the summit, I have absolutely no compunction in publishing her discomfort here.  Revenge is sweet, my little piranha.
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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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