It was after 5 pm in Brussels, two days ago. I spent the whole afternoon wandering aimlessly around the Central Station, waiting for the moment I can see my dearest globetrotter friend Joseph Mansilla. I ended sitting at the super nice Royal library, but got kicked out when it was closed at 5 pm sharp.
I moved to the park next to the building. I sat on a wooden bench on the left side of yet another statue of a long-dead-man on a horse. In the last year I’ve seen to many similar statues I’ve lost the curiousity to look at the name engraved on the bronze figure.
I sat and I fell asleep for a few minutes. I was so tired after five days of travel — it’s fun indeed but energy-consuming at the same time. I woke up, I fell asleep again, I woke up, then back to sleep, I could feel my head nodded countlessly. The breezy wind and the mild weather — much cooler than Venice but slightly warmer than Eindhoven, where I spent the morning — contributed to make me constantly sleepy.
When I finally woke up from my slumber, there was a lean, middle-aged man of Arabic descent sitting next to me on the bench. He muttered something in French.
‘Pardon? Sorry I don’t speak French,’ I said while blinking my still-heavy eyelids.
‘Oh. Um. ┐Hablas espa˝ol?’ he asked me again.
Shoot. He reminded me that I had not fulfilled that long-unfulfilled wish. ‘Un poquito. Very little Spanish,’ I answered sheepishly.
He smiled. ‘Where are you from?’ he said in a thickly accented English.
‘No, Indonesia!’ oh, nationality and pride and neighbour rivalry and my resentment towards Malaysia…
‘Ah, IndonÚsie, sorry. Many muslims there,’ he replied.
‘Yes. It’s the country with the largest muslim population in the world.’ He must be a muslim too, I guessed.
I’m always cautious in talking with strangers but he seemed genuinely want to have a conversation. ┐Por que no? Why not? That’s what my Colombian friend, Mariu, would say.
‘And you, where are you from?’ my turn to ask him.
‘Ah. Marocco! I’d love to go there. But I’ve never been there.’
‘But you visited Middle East before?’
‘Yes. Um… Mecca and Medina.’
‘Ah. C’est magnifique! I go there by car. C’est magnifique..’ his eyes gleamed, I bet he was recalling the days when he visited the two holy cities.
‘C’est magnifique,’ I parroted his words and smiled. ‘But I like Masjidil Nabawi (the mosque in Medina) more than Masjidil Haram. It’s much more beautiful.’
‘What language can Indonesian speak? I speak Arab, French, Spanish. My home is near Spain.’
‘Wow. We can only speak Indonesian. And some can speak English. Some also speak Arabic, although most muslim can read Arab letters but understand very little Arabic.’ I’m an example of that last category.
After a few more dialogues, I decided to go to find coffee to properly wake me up. Contrary to the usual conversation, we introduced our name at the end.
‘I’m Bunga. Nice to meet you.’
Ah, enchantÚ. This French word, although merely means nice to meet you, always sound like ‘I’m enchanted to meet you’ in my ears.
‘EnchantÚ,’ I parroted him again.
I walked and smiled. Talking to strangers is not that bad after all.