Every morning, the men but also a few women used to philosophise on the bench, while people arriving at the East train station hurried to catch their bus and get to work or school on time. The workplace of the men and women on the bench outside the East station was this bench. This was a good thing because they therefore saved the money for the fare to take a transport mode which in this country passes as public.
In this country, we don’t let a passenger board just because he promises the bus driver that a lady is waiting for him at his destination and she will pay his fare, even though he knows very well that no such lady is waiting. This was how a passenger, who was anything but blind travelled across the whole country, visiting Heimaey in the islands and Vestmann and was very surprised when he was refused access on finally opting to take a plane to explore his next destination. The prospect of a lady waiting for him to pay his fare was insufficient.
Tryggvi wanted to know what I thought of this and was surprised to hear me say that it made no difference if a bus crossed the country with ten seats free instead of eleven. In return, I was also surprised as I didn’t know Tryggvi was like that. I only understood better when he explained that the boy in question was only nine at the time. I hadn’t guessed that this fraudster whom the bus driver had allowed to climb on board was only nine years old, because at nine, most children would say ‘mother’, ‘my aunt’, ‘my grandmother’ or ‘my sister’ but never ‘Kona’: ‘a lady’. Nine-year old Icelanders don’t therefore say mother, aunt, grandmother or sister, they say ‘a lady’. And occasionally at this age some of them are already Landshornaflakkari , vagrants.
The country where alcoholic men and women provide sustenance for the needy on a bench in front of the East station, is another country. In this country, children would say mother, aunt, grandmother, sister or something similar, if in panic they have forgotten their ticket or simply the truth. However, this won’t help them to get to class to write the terrifying test which represents their last chance to move up to the next class. No, it won’t help them at all. Whether the boy had been terrified by this important test to the point of forgetting his season ticket, or even if he played by the rules and preferred asking the driver if he could travel this time without his season ticket rather than risk being called a cheat; none of that would help him. And if the bus driver waited, less than 50 cm from the stop, while the traffic lights changed from red to amber, then to green, this would not help him either: for him the door would stay closed. His imploring bangs on the windows could have been heard, but his plea would have remained without response. Bus drivers also have the right to exercise their authority. Just like in this country.
Fortunately, not far from the East train station, is a ‘Good Bakery’ run by a lady baker. Customers love this place, since the proprietor makes her pastries herself and sells Russian cakes or Apfelstrudel in the Turkish style along with the standard industrial pastries like the poppy seed spirals, etc. For workers, there are the homemade soliankas, at prices they can afford. On the window of the bakery, the proprietor used to write phases visible from afar. For example, I noticed the following sentence, when I was already sitting on the bus.
We can build beautiful things, even with with stones that lie in our path.
The following morning, I asked the proprietor, who already spoke German well, who it was that wrote this phase. She gave me an astonished look and told me that it came from Goethe. Each weekend she wrote a phrase on the shop window and rubbed it out on Monday, as she was cleaning the panes. But the day before, she had arrived too late to clean the panes.
After this, she always wrote the name of the author under the phrase, since she had registered that in this country, we are interested in the who and not in the what. And so we saw one phrase after another appear:
Be the change that you wish to see in the world
Week after week, always a different sentence. And the author’s name was always under the phrase. Until one day, the bakery window was decorated with a phrase bereft of its author:
Any sacrifice is a burden
Any music is but noise
And any dance tiring
She waited for my question for four days, then she couldn’t hold back. As she placed my Russian cakes in their bag, she asked me as if to pass time, whether I was interested in the name of the author of this phrase. The lack of a name was intentional then. But what she didn’t know was that she had chosen the wrong phrase for her ruse, which I thwarted by answering: ‘Yes, but I have known his name for a long time.’
Since then, no names are provided under the phrases. As the philosopher Daniel-Pascal Zorn rightly said:
If you believe in philosophers, you have learnt nothing from them.
And since any gift should be followed by a return gift, I gave the baker a phrase which she noted and which took its place in the bakery window for an entire week. Without giving a name. Since what should we think of a what that needs a who to be a what? If a what owes his survival not to himself, but first of all to a who, what is the point of his survival?
The sting in the tail: The Good Bakery is just opposite a school. Children gladly shop at the bakery, or they read the phrases from the bus stop opposite, while waiting for the bus that will take them to their tests. The schools in this country don’t teach philosophy. Philosophy comes up to the school, but has no wish to enter. It is happy to be in front of the door, and also, so to speak, in the street.
At the East train station in Munich, the needy appreciate being close to charitable men and women who use a bench as their workplace The needy always drag a little trolley on wheels behind them and rummage through the rubbish bin next to the bench with long sticks to see if they can perhaps still find a little gem waiting to be saved, such as an empty beer bottle that some machines will exchange for a few coins. Since the government introduced a social programme, which it named after the HRD of a large company, because he fulfilled the required qualities of disloyalty and favouritism, well after that time, the needy collect the returnable bottles in the rubbish bins. And they always find what they are looking for, this is way they willingly come back, to the alcoholics. The charitable men and women sitting on the bench see none of this. They have more important things to do. They have to philosophise.
And the nine-year old boy with his ladies? All I know is that he must already be close to forty, if he is still alive and perhaps he can still read tales about his journeys. In the archives of the Reykjavik newspapers. Under the title: Landshornaflakkari.
As the fisherman Stefán Hörður Grimsson said so well in his poem Orsök:
‘As absurd as it might sound, we should let any man assert that he knows himself, but to say the he knows another man is either impolite or polite as any civilised man who eats his food wisely knows. ’
He was a fisherman poet.
Translation: Jackie Dobble