The train arrived at 17:47. Only a few hours earlier, I had decided to leave Switzerland and hop on a train to Germany, even though I had a flight out of Zurich the next night. My heart beat heavy stepping onto the train station platform in Freiburg, searching for a flash of golden hair. For one day, my world was in flux; the kind of spontaneity that gives life to memories. The last hours of July dripped slowly away, like water from a freshly hung up hose. It emptied itself to fill me up– and in the fullness I forgot to measure. I forgot that clocks count. The voice that worries and whispers only of tomorrow quieted.
For the first time in 5 years, we hugged and we stayed there, the crowd parting around us like a river around a stone. If I was unsure– floating and chaotic– before, she suddenly held me in place. Soon, I was walking her down her street and she was parking her purple and blue bicycle outside her apartment building. Her space was full of art, golden late afternoon light, and the anticipation of her own departure very soon. As I was greeting Freiburg, she was saying goodbye. Seeing the small moments and intricacies that simply defined her normality felt like gifts. They were a window into a reality– one of billions that exist– that is playing constantly alongside my own somewhere beyond where I am.
I rented my own bike and I followed her through the busy streets. By sunset, we had climbed up to see a view of all of Freiburg.
I was taken into the common room of her school and was greeted warmly by friends she ran into. Over Vietnamese, we picked up chopsticks and exactly where we had left off years ago. We passed by live music and Latin dancing in a park while licking ice cream cones. As darkness settled over the city, we hopped from cafe to bar, following text messages detailing the various whereabouts of her friends. It felt like a game of hide and seek, but knowing only that you were looking for excitement. With German beer in hand– a first for me that Lisa deemed necessary– we walked to a gathering place where groups of friends sat in messy circles all across the ground. The circle expanded as we sat down, officially a part of something. Glass bottles clinked gently against pavement; chatter and laughter floated around the square. People huddled closer, slipped on pullovers, and leaned amicably across one another as the chill of midnight set in. In a seamless mix of English and German, they talked about science, education, culture, social media. I taught Lisa the word “granola,” which she said accurately defined her friend group.
“Freiburg is actually the definition of granola, or vice-versa,” she laughed.
After an hour or so of good conversations, we decided to move to our next and final destination of the night. Following a short walk, we turned onto a path between trees and bushes in her friend’s backyard and entered into a small space bound by twinkling string lights. They seemed to flicker to the rhythm of the soft music playing in the background. We all sat around a wooden table scattered with bottles and the dancing light of many burning candles. When I looked up, I saw a handful of stars through the tree branches. To get home that night, I rode on the back of Lisa’s bicycle, laughing most of the way.
The next morning, we bought fruit and croissants at the grocery store and had a picnic at a botanical garden. Lisa, another friend, and I spent hours wandering the gardens and greenhouses, inspecting plants, and eating cherries. Lisa and I shared a coffee before we took our final walk back to the train station.
“We will see each other again,” we said matter-of-factly.
Bittersweetly, I waved goodbye from the train window as I sped away from Freiburg towards Zurich and on to my next adventure.