The young man
arrives in Aalsmeer at about 7:30pm, Dutch
time. The company he's working for is located in a nearby village
, and the HR department
have arranged for him to stay in a boarding house
The streets are very straight, the houses are quite low-set, the windows unnaturally large. It's all very foreign indeed. He's feeling more than a little shaken just from being here - compared to the bustle of Amsterdam, this is another country.
He speaks almost no Dutch and he has to start the new job tomorrow, so he comforts himself that there is no shame in apprehension. It takes a while to find the correct house, they all look much the same even as each street closely resembles all its fellows. And here it is, a low doorway, a glass-panelled door, quintessential continental suburbia.
He knocks, hears a slow shuffling and then eventually, the door is opened by an oldish man, over sixty certainly, brown staring eyes in yellow orbs under shaggy brows and long, unkempt nicotene-coloured hair.
They converse briefly in a babel of languages, finally settling for German augmented by English. Not too dissimilar to Dutch, the young man thinks, wryly.
The landlord shows him to his room, a spartan affair with a narrow bed, a wardrobe, a sink and some taps. He carries his suitcase up the rickety staircase and listens to the soft burbling of the TV below.
"Kaffee?" offers the landlord.
They head downstairs and through into a large, low living-room. The landlord pours two coffees from a pot on the mantlepiece. He offers one to the young man, who takes it carefully, trying to show polite deference in his posture and body language.
"Sit," commands the landlord. They both sit, looking warily at each other.
"German I hate" declares the landlord, the brown-on-yellow eyes fixed on the young man's own nondescript green. "You are German?"
"No? You speak German like German. Like Prussian!" He spits the last word, as if disgusted by it.
"I'm not a German."
"You English then?"
"Good! English no damn good either." He sits back heavily in the chair. "We speak no more German. What you from then?"
"I'm from many places. I've lived in many countries."
"Wanderer, huh? Gypsy, huh? Don't worry, I not call you thief, is just word for wanderer."
"Is good you are not German. Germans kill many in Holland. Germans kill my father's brother and his wife, you know? Because of Jews."
"They were Jews?"
"No! Because of damn Jews!"
Confusion shows on the young man's face, as he tries to work out what this might mean, and wishes they could switch back into German. The landlord might hate the language, but his German is much cleaner than his English.
The landlord looked coldy at him, assessing.
"You are Jew?" he asks.
"No, no I'm not a Jew."
"They die because of Jews. Because Germans make count of all Jews in Aalsmeer, all Jews everywhere. And then Germans kill that many Jews. And if some Jews hiding, or run away, or dead before, Germans kill good Hollanders. Make up the count. Make up the numbers. You understand?"
"Yes. Yes, I understand. You're right, we shouldn't speak any more German."
"You good boy. You smoke?" He produces a packet of Camels.
"You like Aalsmeer?"
"I only just got here, I don't really know yet."
"You will leave. All young people leave, go Amsterdam, go den Haag, go Utrecht."
"No smoking in room."
"No women in room, either. Or men. No nothing in room, okay?"
"Only sleeping. You need sleep?"
"Yes, I'm very tired."
"You travel a long way today?"
"Yes. A very long way."
"You will learn Dutch?"
"I will try."
"Don't waste your time. Nobody speak Dutch. Everyone speak English. Soon all the world speak English and only people who will not be the damn French!" He laughs, a wheezing cackle.
The young man smiles, reserving his thoughts.
"You go. Sleep now. You want food in morning?"
"Just coffee, please."
"Me too. Is good. Sleep."
He heads back to the sparse room, undresses, lies on the bed and looks at the lights of passing aircraft heading for Schiphol. And wonders what the future will hold.