On the fifth night of my trip (Kelly’s Solo Sojourn Through Europe: Trail of Tears Edition), I took a late train out of Paris du Nord back to King’s Cross Station in London.
It was an evening train during the holiday week in Europe, and it was plenty packed. I had all of my belongings with me, a week’s worth of clothes, computer and camera shoved into two bags. It crowded the seat because I’m short and can never reach the overhead compartment. Usually some gentleman offers to stow my stuff, but I was in France and did not speak French. I wanted to keep to myself. It had been my goal of the trip, my raison d'aller—keep to yourself, let it wash over you, write what you can.
An old lady stopped at my row and inwardly, I groaned. Three hour train ride with this old broad? She stared at me until I moved my bags closer to my chest, prepared to be uncomfortable for three hours. But I got lucky, because she noticed an empty seat upfront and quickly moved.
After she got up, I spread my bags out across the two seats and that’s when I noticed him. Blonde, curly-haired with pink cheeks. He was speaking with his parents in a language I didn’t understand. Soon I realized it to be Italian. Almost immediately, he noticed me and we locked eyes.
(If you are thinking that finally! Finally I made a love connection overseas, you are wrong.)
This happened often, this attraction. I was known for this ability, this weird tendency of infants and small children to gravitate towards me. I jokingly call myself The Baby Whisperer, and in a way it is true—children flock to me, and I am silly enough to relate to them.
This boy couldn’t have been more than two. We were on a French train, with different languages between the both of us. But I played along as he stared at me across the seat. I moved my sunglasses up and down on my face, a game of peek-a-boo. He laughed, clapped his hands together. Then he reached toward me, and his mother looked at me, surprised. I didn’t want to seem like some sort of weird, single, childless pariah, so I looked away and back into my book. The boy began to cry until I looked up again. Then he reached for me.
His uncle, a slight man in his twenties, possessed some English. He sat in front of us, across the aisle from me. He spoke briskly with the little boy’s parents and then said to me “We are so surprised. Frederico hates strangers, he won’t even go to me most times.” I laughed nervously and asked, hopefully: “Would you like me to hold him?”
The boy crawled toward me and settled against my chest. He lay there and we wordlessly played with my sunglasses and his snow globe. It felt like a long time passed, but it could not have been more than ten minutes until I gave him back to his parents. “What a sweet boy,” I said, helpless in my English. His uncle translated, and then again expressed his shock that the boy went to me, he never goes to strangers, he is so shy.
I smiled, sudden warmth flowing through me. “I just have a way with kids sometimes. He’s a beautiful boy,” I said.
I rested my head against my seat and closed my eyes, overcome at this feeling of peace. Finally, it seemed I was sedated against the heavy and constant flow of anxiety that had become so much of my trip, the inner monologue that hadn’t stopped since I landed. The warmth of a child on my chest, a boy who immediately loved me, had sated my anxiety at last.
Before we disembarked, I looked at Frederico once more, his chest sleepily rising and falling, his face pressed against his mother's. I reached for my bags, looked back once more and smiling, slipped out the door and into the black London night.