I’m going down the escalator at Stadhalle to catch a tram to class when Phillip, a four year old boy who has been talking since we were in Bus 612 asks me, “Sprichst du Deutsch?”
He wanted to know if I spoke German. This was a good time to test what I know so far, to engage in a conversation with a child, to stretch the limits of my grammar and vocabulary which, if we are to assess, is probably the weight of a grain of rice.
With a beam on my face, putting into practice what I’ve learned, I tell him, “Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch.”
“Dad, he speaks a little German,” he says to his father in English.
We miss the tram so we sit on the benches to wait for the next one.
Phillip’s dad comes from D.R Congo. His mum is German. They have a dual system of languages in their household. Dad speaks to him in English, mum in Deutsch. That way, the boy can comprehend both languages. It has become intuitive to him when speaking with his parents. He knows how and when to switch from one language to the other. Both languages roll out of his tongue in an innocent poetic tone. He’s only four years old.
We are in the tram now. I’m seated next to him. He’s having a conversation with his dad.
“I think the next stop will have green walls,” he says. “What do you think dad?”
“I think the next stop will have white walls.”
We get to the next stop. He forgets about colors of the wall. He whispers something in his father’s ear. The tram continues.
“Kannst du mit mir in meinen Kindergarten kommen?” he asks me. I didn’t get that one. He says it so fast it feels as though a bullet train has just gone past me.
“Wie bitte?” I respond. I needed him to repeat what he said because I didn’t understand it.
He slows down.
“Kannst. Du. Mit. Mir. In. Meinen. Kindergarten. Kommen?”
I got it this time. He’s asking if I can go with him to his Kindergarten.
“Tut mir leid,” I say, “leider nicht heute.”
He smiled. Did he even process my response? I don’t know. He’s an ecstatic bubbly kid. We got to Olof-Palme-Allee, the stop that has flags of every country that’s part of the UN flying in its air space. Each time I’m at Olof Palme Allee, I look at the flag of Uganda. It gives me a sense of pride, that even though I’m far from home, that flag is always a reminder that home is there. That flag gives me a sense of belonging.
Phillip wasn’t done with his questions.
“Wo wohnst du?” he asked. He wanted to know where I stay. I didn’t have to think too hard for this one.
“Ich wohne in Deutschherrenstrasse.”
“Ah!” he exclaimed with excitement. “Ich auch.” We both live along the same street.
The next tram stop was Heussallee. That’s where they alighted from.
I alighted at the Universität stop. It was on my walk to class that I met my classmate Catherine. She’s Catherine from Malawi. She was as late as I was. I had a reason for being tardy. I was practicing my Deutsch with a child. That’s excusable, right? But Cathy? I wonder what reason she had. By the way Cathy, if you’re reading this, why were you late to class gestern? J
Cathy and I were partners for an Übung [exercise] in Deutsch class. The serious students had been in at least10 minutes earlier and were already deep into an exercise that required placing the right pronouns in a bunch of sentences. It was natural that our teacher Tania paired us the late comers. The exercise involved taking turns to toss a coin to answer a question.
When it is her turn, I watch her fumbling with the coin. Her thumb looked like a catapult ready to shoot. She folded her first finger in what seems like an uncomfortable position. It’s the way you feel when half your butt in on a chair and the other is hanging in air. The coin slid off.
“I can’t flip a coin,” she said.
When she tossed it, it shot out like a bullet from a rifle and fell on the other end of the table.
I cracked up.
I couldn’t help it. I thought everyone could flip coins. Apparently not. I found it unusual that she couldn’t do it. I asked her if I could write about it.
“Send me the link when you do.”
So yeah, if we had to flip coins to get food and drink, Cathy would have her stomach mourning from hunger. Her throat would be sore from thirst. She’d have a hoarse voice that’d give her a headache so strong she’d cry out to her mother. No, she’d cry out to Jesus.
How do I know she’d run with her eyes filled with tears to Jesus? She and the big man with a lange Bart from Bethlehem are tight friends. They go way back. He knew her before she was conceived. Her name is on the palm of His father.
She gave her life to Jesus at a prayer session. I’m not sure how it happened. This is my guess though.
I imagine it was a Sunday. The church band played praise and worship songs. They lifted their hands in worship and raised their voices in praise. They glorified the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who saved Daniel from the Lion’s jaws, the same God who saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the furnace.
The congregation roared in prayer. They said earth shaking invocations. They breathed the air that was filled with the Holy Spirit. The pastor spoke in languages only those in the spirit could interpret. The roof of the church trembled. People fell to the ground. They screamed. Demons took the exit faster than the speed of light. And the pastor’s preaching stroked hearts. One of those hearts was that of our protagonist, Catherine.
So when he asked for those who wanted to give their lives to Jesus, the son of God (also the son of Mary and Joseph), she walked to the front, raised her hands, closed her eyes, repeated a prayer that the pastor led them through and gave her life to Him. The congregation clapped. So that’s how Cathy and Jesus have been friends since that time, many years ago.
How do I know they are friends? She told me so. No more questions for me bitte.
Where were we again? Uhmm… All of us flipping coins to get food. At this point of the story, we all know she can’t toss a penny, right?
So she’ll walk to Jesus and say, “Jesus, ich habe viel Hunger. Konnen Sie mir bitte etwas zu essen geben?” [Jesus, I’m so hungry. Please give me some food?”
Jesus – being a man who has a sense of humour that goes over 2,000 years – will say “Oh meine Tochter kannst du eine Münze werfen?” [Oh my daughter, can you flip a coin?]
She’ll drop her shoulders and sigh. She’ll look at Jesus, her eyes further welling up. She’ll swallow a lump down her throat.
She’ll – in a voice that’s weak, a voice that’s painted with hunger – say to him, “Leider nicht. Ich kann keine Münze werfen.” [Unfortunately not. I can’t flip a coin.]
And Jesus, being the provider of all things, food inclusive, will look at her with eyes of provision. He wouldn’t want to put her through any more of his jokes.
“Aber natürlich gebe ich dir zu essen.” he’ll say. “Mach dir keine Sorgen.” He’ll tell her not to worry about it.
He’ll go on to serve her a banquet. She’ll eat the juiciest piece of chicken anywhere in this world. And her inability to flick a coin will have no dire consequences.
When she’s eaten to her fill, she’ll pull out her tongue and tease me. She’ll say, “Who’s laughing now?”
I’ll raise my hands.
“Cathy, you win,” I’ll say.
P.S: My knee has recovered. I’m thankful to all of you readers that wished me a quick recovery. May God bless you all.