The River Inside Her
(Camp song – Poet unknown)
Everywhere she looked, vast expanses of rolling green countryside met her eyes, dotted at times with flocks of sheep or a clump of trees, but mostly a velvety green carpet that made her itch to reach out and run her hand on it. Occasionally she spotted a house or two nestled in the hills with their bright red-brick roofs, making her wonder about the people who stayed there, so far away from any conveniences and how they survived in the wilderness. It reminded her of the Arcadian stories of shepherds leading idyllic lives in the mountains, content with driving their flock of sheep every morning out into the mountains and back into their pens at sundown. But could someone really be content with living on cheese, bread and wine for a lifetime? What about the other necessities of life? Surely there was more to life than chasing some wooly creatures around the mountains? Or was there? Was her life more meaningful? Wasn’t she too, chasing something across the countryside?
No, she wasn’t in the mood for that kind of a city today. Perhaps some other day. For now, her destination was decided. Besides, she had to get there by this evening or she’d lose the job. Ignorant of the admiring glances she was getting from the young man sitting across her, she smiled to herself and thought of how lucky she was to get this wonderful opportunity. This would be the best opportunity she’d gotten ever since she’d started working as an au-pair to finance her voyages across Europe. She’d worked and stayed with families in France, Spain, Italy and Germany in the last three years. She stayed with each family for six months, traveling around the neighbouring towns and villages during weekends, which she insisted were hers and hers alone. During the week, she spent her free time exploring the meandering lanes of the town she was living in, taking pleasure in discovering the quaint nooks and crannies of the city that were known only to the locals, picking up cultural nuances and the local dialects. She’d always been adept at picking up languages and had a fairly good grip over several European languages, so her time spent in these countries had merely polished her mastery of these languages.
“Nächste halte Mannheim.” She looked up startled and started putting away her Discman, book and remnants of the salad she’d picked up at the station in Braunschweig. She had lost track of time, so lost was she in her ruminations of her experiences in these last few years. Pulling down her navy-blue backpack from the overhead compartment, she shrugged it on, shaking her head in a polite but firm refusal when the young man offered to help her with it. Checking that she had taken all her belongings she made her way to the other end of the compartment where her steel-gray valise was stowed away, pulled it out, swinging her long braid back over her shoulder, and joined the queue of people who were waiting to get off at Mannheim. She had three minutes to make her way from platform 4, where this train would pull in, to platform 7, from where she was to catch her next change.
She made it just in time. The train was pulling in just as she stepped out of the elevator on platform 7. Her eyes widened as she took in the sight of the train, a quaint old train run on a coal-engine. This was going to be interesting. As the train trundled its way noisily out of Mannheim, she settled back in her seat. Being the shortest leg of her journey, not to mention the last leg, she decided not to attempt drowning the cacophony of the train with her Discman.
Her senses prickled in excitement as her destination grew closer. The Dortmunds had said they would meet her outside the Heidelberg Bahnhof Eurail counter. She pulled out the photograph they’d sent – their three year old daughter stared back defiantly at the camera, her thumb stuck in her mouth stubbornly despite what looked like a rather valiant attempt her by elder brother to pull it out of her mouth! Mentally crossing her fingers, she hoped they wouldn’t be too difficult to handle. So far she’d had only one troublesome charge – Maria-Jose had been a royal pain in the neck with her constant demands and daily tantrums. It had taken all her patience to keep from giving the girl the beating she deserved. Though she didn’t normally condone corporal punishment for children, this was one time she’d agreed with the adage of spare the rod, spoil the child.
“Wilkommen Fraulein Up-Upadhaya!”
“Upadhyaya. Rema-ni-ka Upadh-ya-ya. It’s wonderful to be here in Heidelberg.”