“This is why I love Europe,” rushed to my head at my sudden realization. Those words may have even left my lips as I grinned in the bathroom, alone with my laptop, out of earshot of my wife, Deborah. The glow of the screen filled the dark room with visions of relaxation, adventure, romanticism and our beloved sun, something we hadn’t seen in weeks. Ten euro would get us a a flight to Milan for an authentic Italian spaghetti dinner or to Paris for escargot (snails). Forty euro would get us the deep blue skies of Greece. Twenty euro would get us to Brussels for Belgian Waffles in the park. “We’ve been to Milan and Paris. Let’s try Belgium this time,” I whispered as if someone was around. I bought it before Deborah got suspicious about the amount of time I was taking. It was almost Valentine’s Day, and I had a surprise for her.
The classic sound of an archaic lock on a giant door behind us broke the silence of morning. Just as the sun broke the skyline, Deborah and I trotted out of our Berlin apartment on Valentine’s Day. I wore more clothing than a polar bear has fur, but I could still feel the hairs of my legs standing on end. The sun shone through Deborah’s eyes as her smile lit up the block.
“What’re we doing today?” She pried for the third or fourth time. Again, I reassured her that we weren’t leaving Berlin and exact details were none of her concern.
“Ok, we need some cash, but we don’t have a lot of time,” I said at the end of the block. “There’s an ATM at the airport, but they take five eu-” the buildings around me dropped like my heart into my stomach. I kept a lid on it for nearly a week, and I had to blow it less than 30 minutes from the moment of truth!
A few barks of laughter erupted from her lips. It was cute, if only because she was laughing at my bone headedness. Almost as a reward for such a big surprise, she said, “let’s grab some coffee.” She knew we didn’t really have time, but she always knew I would appreciate her persistence for such a noble cause. With cash in hand, we kissed and parted ways: I went to buy the train ticket and she went to buy coffee. I stood in the middle of a cold, lifeless train station alone waiting for coffee…and Deborah. I couldn’t help but reflect on what had brought us to this point.
The morning of the day I bought our flights, Deborah and I discussed various points of the five love languages. I bundled up like the kid in A Christmas Story for our daily walk before questioning her, “What makes you feel loved?”
“I do love when you do things for me, but I really love quality time. To feel loved, I need us to do things together and I want your undivided attention.” There was a long pause. “But seriously, I just want chocolate,” she smirked while the sides of her mouth quivered a bit.
Deborah does love chocolate.
Especially pregnant Deborah. It was Sunday, and in Berlin all stores are closed (am I crazy or is this normal?). Luckily, we had bought some during our last shopping date.
That night, we laid together on our ginormous purple couch for tea and a movie. The apartment was dark, the movie was ready, the tea was nothing short of warming to the soul. And the chocolate? Nowhere to be found. “Deborah, do you have any idea where the chocolate could be?”
“No, but did you check the normal places? Near the tea? In the drawer where the pasta is?”
“Yeah, of course. Do you know if we did anything different with it?”
“Maybe check the grocery bag?”
“No, it’s definitely not in there. I think we left it at the Turkish store. Hold on, I’ll go run and grab it.”
“Did we even go to the Turkish store?” Deborah asked.
“Yes, we definitely went. Also, it’s the only store that’s open right now,” I answered without a pause in between.
“No, you don’t have to, it’s late and really cold outside.”
“It’s alright, I already have my shoes on.”
Of course I didn’t forget our chocolate in another store. That would be super bizarre. We probably just never bought it; left it in an aisle somewhere in the supermarket. I knew Deborah wanted chocolate, and I love doing things for her.
The Turkish store was really crowded for being so dark outside. “Oh, that’s right, everything else is closed,” thinking to myself. The paint of the near-black concrete floor under my feet was chipping. The store feels grimy, and nothing has a price on it. That’s how you know it’s more expensive than it should be. Browsing the aisles, I saw a myriad of weird and foreign things, including a giant blue bag of tortilla chips. Oh, how my heart lights up every time I see it there. This store could quite literally be the only place that sells them. Looking over at the glass container with various yogurt dips and hummuses, I thought back to when we tried them all. They look so good. Please don’t be fooled. Disgusting. Never buy dips or hummus at a Turkish store in Berlin.
With my eyes firmly focused on the chocolate in the front, I grabbed my chips, because…maybe there’s enough money for both. When I finally got to the front, a long line had already filled in behind me, and all my money was in small coins. Knowing that time was not on my side, I acted quickly and grabbed the nearest chocolate to me. “I only brought four euro with me, I need to ask how much these are,” I thought to myself.
“How much are the chips?” I asked in German.
“They’re 2.50,” the clerk mumbled under his breath.
“And this chocolate?”
“It’s 2 euro.”
I only had 4 euro, so do I want my chips or Deborah’s chocolate? Reluctantly I said, “ok, I want the chocolate, but not the chips.”
A quick exchange of money, I left the chocolate bar, and grabbed the chips, signalling that I was going to put them back. In a flurry of confusion and angry-sounding German words I didn’t understand, my entire reality got turned upside down. Do you know what German sounds like when it’s yelled at you? It’s something like, “Ichbinwirklichwütendaufdichnichtstehlendiese bitte.” Holy smokes, my stomach sank and my eyes looked like headlights. My big blue bag of chips got less appetizing by the second, and the hope of chocolate quickly disappeared as the clerk slapped his hand on the chocolate bar I had paid for and threw it behind the counter. Still fearing for my life, my nerve settled and ears tuned into what he was saying, “if you want the chips, you have to pay more.”
“No I don’t want the chips.” I didn’t know how to say I was just putting them back in German, so with eyes locked and lips shut, we carefully traded the giant blue bag for the chocolate bar. I’m pretty sure I walked out of there labeled a thief in his mind, and I haven’t been back.
Deborah was especially excited to see me back. You can only guess why. Her sparkly eyes and bright smile quickly turned dark when she saw what I brought. “99% cacao? Why would you buy this?” She asked.
“What do you mean? You keep buying the dark chocolate..” I said with a bit of a whimper.
“Yeah, the 60, maybe 70% tops. 99%? That’s for cooking, not eating!”
“Hey, I probably risked my life for that!”
Still in the middle of the train station, I grinned for no outwardly apparent reason. Of course looking back on the story was entertaining, but at the time I didn’t think it was so hilarious. Deborah still wasn’t back with coffee, so the smile quickly disappeared. I began walking up the stairs out of the train station. Smelling the fresh cold cigarette smoke as I passed through the station, then the fragrant flowers at the top of the stairs, all the way passed the pungent urine soaked corner. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little worried, but I saw my coffee on the counter, with Deborah behind it from outside the window of the corner store. “How was it? Everything ok?” I asked.
“Yeah, everything was fine, there was just a long line. Let’s do this thing.”
“No need to hurry,” I told her, “we have about 8 minutes before the train comes.”
“So where are we really going?” Deborah implored.
“To the airport! I already let that one spill!”
The train that takes us to the airport is the dirtiest of all those in Berlin. Gray. Plain. Jane. On the seat in front of me, there were blue graffitied curse words. Outside the right window, a red brick building, looked to have been destroyed during World War II and left as is since. Out the left window was a cold war era smoke stacked factory, complete with dreary looking overcast clouds and everything. But sitting right next to me on Valentine’s Day was the reason none of it mattered.
At the airport, Deborah still didn’t give up. Looking up at the screen with flight times, she explained to me, “well there’s a flight to Rome leaving soon. Oh no, that’s a little too soon. We might miss it!”
“We’re not going to Rome,” I told her probably devastatingly.
“Everyone to London Gatwick please follow me this way!” The short woman in an orange vest was visibly flustered. I felt sort of bad for her.
“We’re going back to London?” Deborah conjectured.
“No! Just stop guessing and enjoy the ride.”
For some reason I really can’t remember, I handed Deborah her boarding pass. She promptly opened it up, and just like that, half my secret was blown.
Next week, we’ll be publishing Part 2. Subscribe below to be part of it.