Varying degrees of German
Heart thumping, you say, “Ich heiße Fiona. Ich wohne in London und ich bin funf und dreizig Jahre alt.”
The teacher nods. “Sehr gut, Fiona, und John…?”
You listen to your other classmates introducing themselves in the varying degrees of German remembered from school or picked up during weekends away, yours found on the internet then rehearsed in the short car journey to the college.
One man, the oldest person in the class by far, makes notes on his bright pink A4 ring-bound pad then stutters as he repeats his neighbour’s phrases, her details swapped for his. He reminds you of your grandfather Albert, stocky, how he was before he became ill, before he became a “walking bag of bones”, long after your mother had stopped taking you to see him but still talked about him to your father when they thought you weren’t listening.
Albert had been the traveller of the family, passport pages overflowed with stamps, plain and patterned. “See the world!” he’d said to you, breath rasping, and you’d promised you would but it wasn’t until he’d left you the money that you could plan to quit your job and study, brush up on your French, learn German and see where Europe lead you.
The teacher, Dieter, turns back to the interactive white board and writes down the words you said, reading them out as he does so. A young girl behind you giggles as he tells the class his name is Fiona. The other two pieces of information could easily be accurate and you look for a wedding ring on either hand but find none. You look down at his backside and the curve of his jeans, the little red Levi label showing him to be a man of good taste.
The old man, Frank, starts coughing and Dieter offers to get him a cup of water. You put up your hand and volunteer to go, having spotted the drinks machine on your way in. Dieter winks and mouths a “thank you” and now your heart thumps for a completely different reason.
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