Luxembourg City

Twilight in the heart of Luxembourg. A silky veil of soft peach, mauve, and indigo light is slipping over the city. Windows become moonstones, radiating a soft inner glow and imparting a creamy illumination to the pale bricks of their buildings. Although there are few trees, the air is as crisply scented of autumn leaves as an October backyard in Kansas. In the middle of the square, a tall and stocky Scotsman in full plaids stands on a wooden box and plays the bagpipes. They keen and sing, soar and plummet, lilt and soothe. His eyes are squeezed tight closed, and he hardly moves at all. Just the slow rhythm of his lungs, powering out music like the ocean powers out waves, the slight rise and fall of his rich reddish beard.

A flock of brightly colored kimono-clad Japanese wives flutters out of Hermes and spills into the square. They stop en masse at the sight of him, and regard him with uniform awe. They speak among themselves in a musical hush. Then one of them breaks away, as the others cover their mouths with tiny white hands and their eyes get even bigger. She steps (such tiny steps, the narrow silk of her skirt imposing a birdlike grace) lightly to the man with the bagpipes. He takes no notice of her, he is in the heart of the music and the eyes of the music face inward. She reaches out to him with her little hand, tentative and daring. She touches his kilt with delicate fingertips, and lets them rest there for a moment. He, still in the heart of the music, unknowing.

Outside of L., Yugoslavia

The train rocks slightly from side to side. It is an old train. These are old tracks. It is rocketing through Yugoslavia, which is newly at war with itself. The train will make no stops, none. Those who stand and wait at the stations do not know this. They stand, with their striped plastic bags full of what is most important, and they watch the train pass them by. They do not cry out, they do not reach for it, they simply stand and watch. There are five girls in this train, the only passengers to embark in Athens. Five girls from three different countries, five girls who were strangers to each other two weeks ago and who will be strangers to each other again in a day, when the train arrives in Munich. They had not read a newspaper in weeks. They did not know. And now they stand at the windows and hold hands in silence as the train buffets past villages of would-be refugees. One of the girls is crying softly, and another puts her arm around her shoulders. Eventually the signs of habitation come with less frequency, as the train rockets on, on into farmland.

The girls sit together in a berth. Four of them play cards. The fifth stares dreamily out the window, out at the waving fields that remind her so much of her childhood home. She remembers how they burn the fields in the fall, how the fire races through the night in voracious copper ribbons. In the distance now there is a large concrete building. Ragged curtains flutter out of paneless windows. A farm collective, she guesses. And now the train is passing a man on a shiny, almost new John Deere tractor. It is being pulled by a team of oxen. And now the train is passing a young and handsome shepherd, dressed in warm woolens of tweedy brown. He carries a staff, and wears a knit cap over thick black hair. He is watching the train when her window intersects with his gaze. Their eyes meet, and she falls in love with the calm green strength of them while the train rockets on, on to Munich.

Hong Kong Noodle Shop, Chinatown (Boston)

A steaming bowl of noodles in a rich and venerable broth which has been developing its strength and character for months, perhaps years. Pieces of bok choy float on the surface, also slivers of sweet pork. The smell alone is good enough to restore the spirit. A spoonful is magic. The man and the woman bend reverently to their bowls, and slurp blissfully at their noodles. After a moment, the man is sufficiently restored to wiggle his eyebrows at the woman and works at a length of noodle with mock-lascivious intensity. She rolls her eyes at him and laughs. She sees, over his shoulder, an old papa-san with a small child on his lap. He is old like trees are old; gnarled and imprinted with the years, but also timeless. The child is young like the dawn is young; soft and glowing with promise. The old man curls his gnarled fingers around the peach blossom of the child's hand, and gently guides a pair of chopsticks into the child's fingers.

He demonstrates, helping a chubby little hand to guide a chubby little dumpling into a chubby little mouth. The child chews, smiles, laughs. It's good. They do this again. Then the old man leans down and the child feeds him a dumpling. He smiles, and his face is animated in the most beautiful smile she has ever seen. With all of his wrinkles, when he smiles his forehead smiles, his cheeks smile, his mouth smiles, his eyes smile, even his ears smile. The child and the old man gaze into each others' eyes, smiling.

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