The Romans Would Have Eaten Fries

The problem of most runaways is that they drag too much luggage with them to make it far. Much of the ballast from back home they carry with them into foreign countries, pull the suitcases over border lines and then question; Why they didn’t make it far in the first place. Ballast is ballast, whether or not you’re wearing it in a suitcase or in your heart. Back then my heart had grown thick… and I had turned reserved and born out of this fact my backpack was only filled with the bare bone of essentials that I hastily rummaged from home. No stones to wear me down, no weight to carry with, no burdens to bear. I made it pretty far. Past fields and suburban homes, into the big metropolitan city. Several decades of kilometers away from home. There I was, at the train station. Of course, I didn’t want to stay, but on the first night I spent at a fixed place in days, my restlessness finally came to an end.
I quickly grew accustomed to poor sleep thanks to the train seats that carried me on my journey. But at least when I fell asleep on the train, I remained after all in movement and a train at 7 am in the morning would get me to the next stop on my journey to nowhere. Being forced to wait from time to time was but an evil that I had accepted in advance. The main thing was to get further away from home. Further away from her.
Honestly, in the last hours in which I have been in carriages and spent staring out of windows, I kept thinking a lot about turning back. One thing stopped me; I would have needed to face my father. The thought of his smug grin with the “I knew you would come back” expression. The corner of his mouth upwards. This contemptuous look. No, I’m not coming back, I’m not crawling and I’m not going to beg for mercy. The world was now my home and I was her master. The thought kept me running, further and further away from everything I knew and was bored with. But God, or whoever controls the weather, had other plans for me.  
There was a storm coming. All the traffic had been stopped, nobody was prepared for it and I saw myself forced to sleep in the main hall of the station. The opportunity was especially greeted by my irritated stomach. For two days I had eaten nothing but peanuts, chocolate bars, and other snacks. Just the thought of candy filled with caramel made me nauseous. But the inside of the station insisted on making me hungry again.
The halls were full, with a wide variety of restaurants and stores, freedom of choice and the money was enough for a decent meal. I strolled slowly to a Chinese restaurant. I was not really in the mood for Sushi. I opted for a burger shack next to a bakery. At the entrance, a group of young people hung out, they were about my age. They were busy talking to each other and stared at me as I came closer. It had always been like that for me. For the blood dogs, I was a pack of Frankfurter sausages.
When I tried to walk past them, one of them stood in my way. The guy was a good 5 centimeters taller than my 1.78 meters. He had a peach fuzz above his lips. His eyes were brown. His clothes were littered with holes. He radiated a hint of masculinity, so strong that one was able to notice it, but not strong enough that one could already call him “Schwarzenegger”.
“Hey Schwarzenegger, would you step aside, please?”
He laughed briefly out of embarrassment or as an omen for the arising anger and took a step closer to me. I could smell his mint gum breath.
“A jokester. I love jokesters. Tell funny man…shall I polish your face?”
“No, I’ve been brushing my teeth today, but thank you”
He grabbed me with his left hand on the collar. His right hand was drawn back. Ready to strike. His friends were lined up in a circle around us to cover us off potential witnesses.
“Take a blow,” I said to him.
Confused he looked at me, but only for a second, then his anticipation was there to welcome my request to meet them.
“Hey Jim, let him go.”
A boy, “almost” a man, he was black, also in our age, brown eyes, short shorn hair, squeezed himself through the group and got between me and Jim.
“Ätz, don’t get involved”
He approached him, pulled Jim away from me, who to my surprise hardly fought back. The other guys of Jim’s group stood there motionless. A face-off of two starved dogs in the streets, fighting for a dead dove and I felt excited about wholesome fletched teeth with violent intent. I didn’t know who this Ätz guy was and I didn’t root for either of them.
Ätz was the one to break the silence first.
“You know what happened last time? You remember, don’t you?”
He seemed to remember. He wrenched his face in pain, looked into the faces of his friends, then into Ätz’s face and he let go of him. Jim turned to me again.
“The little white boy who lets himself be protected by the big black man” he shook his head mockingly smiling like a little boy who had just played a harmless prank, “I hope you two will be happy together.” When he finished the sentence, Jim went down the halls of the station concourse. His friends were tailing him. Ätz turned to me.
“Excuse Jimbo, the muscle injections shrank his brain too.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to say. The boy, that Ätz guy had saved my skin and I didn’t know him. Of course, at first, I wondered why and if there was a motive behind what he was doing. I shook the thought off quickly, maybe he really just wanted to help me, and I could play cool all I wanted, I needed help.
“How can I thank you?” I asked him.
Ätz smiled. Perfect white teeth. Not one crooked. Not one danced out of line. White monuments of wealth. Who was this guy?
“You’re welcome. Jimbo’s always been difficult. Don’t make a big deal out of it”
His eyes brown. Not dirty, like Jim’s. They were dark, radiating stoic strength. As if nothing could make him tremble, as if he had seen the whole world and not once the thought crossed his mind of closing his eyes.
“Let me buy you dinner. Please, it’s the least I can do”
I asked him nicely to be able to express my gratitude, but that was not the motive of my invitation. I never thought there would be a moment when I wished to just talk to someone.
Ätz nodded and we both entered the burger shack one after the other. I let him go first. The smell of fat was in the warm air. The guests were crammed into the smallest of spaces, crammed together on cheap wooden chairs that were supposed to look noble while they were licking their fingers bathed in frying fat.
In detail, the spectacle was disgustingly grotesque, like pigs, they were eating the artery-clogging potato slices and smeared sauce on the tabletops as they stuffed the meat into their mouths with salad, bread, and cheese; but as a whole, it seemed as enthusiastic as ancient Romans celebrating their victory over the uncivilized barbarians.
“Two cheeseburgers with big fries and a Coke, ”I told the teenager who was working at the register. He was barely older than me, but obviously already on his way to the top.
“That’ll be 18. 98€”
I reached into my back pocket, but I reached into the void, then I reached into the other one, but only grabbed the fabric of my pants. The cashier of his age became impatient. I went through the jacket pockets. Nothing, either. My wallet was gone. I tried a second and third time, but again I reached into the void. How had I not noticed that?
“Here, keep the change”
Ätz gave him a twenty Euro bill. He tied the rest of his banknotes together with a rubber band and put the bundle away. I thanked him, but he said it wasn’t a big deal.
We took our food and sat down at one of the tables. Ätz bit in his burger twice took a few fries in his hand, swallowed them down before he pushed the box, in which the food was served, away from himself.
“Go on eating.” He told me, and I greedily swallowed everything until the last drop of ketchup was dipped. He watched me do it and only ate a few fries in between.
“Where are you from?” He asked me first, so my name had to queue behind my story. I told him about my father. I still wonder why. Why was the first one I entrusted with the full truth a stranger?
His intrusive interest was unpleasant for me when I noticed it, but in my situation, I was dependent on the good nature of a stranger. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you, do you? But I quickly told him more than originally planned and when I had answered all his questions, he congratulated me, and it felt flattered in the right way. As if he could understand it better than all the people I had lived with, but in reality, he probably was just the first to listen to the whole story and he even seemed to enjoy it a lot.
Then Ätz told me about his father who left his mother, his mother who lived for her sons, and about himself working for his brother’s education. As if we were deeply connected, he laid his hand on my shoulder in an act of acceptance and assured me that I had it worse.
“Yeah, maybe you right. But no money, no passport, no tickets. My trip is over.”
When Ätz heard that, he pulled his hand off my shoulder and stretched it out to me.
“Stay with me as long as you want, uhm…”
“Stay with me as long as you want, Nathaniel.”
I agreed, even if I was hesitant. I knew I had no choice. We shook hands. He got up and wiped the fat off his lips.
“There is one thing, I like to know. Why didn’t the other boys attack you?”
“I sell weed to them,” Ätz replied bluntly with a slight smile.
I laughed out loud. So hard I nearly fell off my wooden luxury replica chair. Ätz smiled at me silently until I got my act together again”.
“Okay, Nat, let’s melt snow over some tequila.”


> Next Chapter: Turkish Delight


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