On a Train from Nice to Ventimiglia

The 2nd class train from Nice, France, to Ventimiglia, Italy, is overflowing on this sunny weekday morning in September. Commuters heading to work mix with tourists like me on holiday. Luggage fills the aisles. Children sit on laps. Passengers stand in the vestibule between cars, sweaty and crowded.

Several security guards also board the train, serious and menacing, while conductors spread out to check tickets.

My foot is bandaged, healing from a sprain, so I am given a seat for the hour-long journey. 

Suddenly a loud conflict erupts in the vestibule. Several people skitter away to find other places to stand as a young man argues with two security guards and a handful of conductors.

The British man across from me interprets, “There is a problem with his ticket though it isn’t the young man’s fault.” But on this day for the bureaucracy, it is policy over people.

The young man protests as the conductor presents him with a fine, and all six officials disembark at the next station. The young man slumps defeated, as the British man explains to me that fines are substantial.

After a few more stops, the train is nearly empty but the young man remains in the vestibule with his head in his hands. I take a small object from my purse and approach him.

“Bon jour, Monsieur. Parlez vous anglais?”

“Oui. Yes.” He eyes me uncertainly.

“I want to give you this.” I place a small red glass heart in his palm. “It’s made in my hometown in Tacoma in the United States. I am sorry you’re having a difficult day, and I hope things gets better.”

He looks at it and then at me, “Thank you,” he says and smiles softly. Smiling back, I put my hand over my heart in a universal gesture of care and return to my seat where I can see him sitting up now in the vestibule, looking at his palm and smiling shyly back at me.

I motion for him to join me and we talk. He is a graduate student in Nice studying business, and this morning he is on his way to work. He doesn’t have a family yet and instead he is focused on his studies and then work for the next few years. He asks about my work, and I tell him I teach about the importance of less fear and more love at work in government.

He considers this and taps out something in Google translate on his phone then hands it to me, “I greatly appreciate the kindness you have shown me today.”

“You are very welcome. I am glad I could do this.” We smile. We chat a bit more until the train sounds the next stop. “Menton.”

He stands up to disembark, “Au revoir! Merci mademoiselle.” “Au revoir Monsieur!” We wave goodbye and he goes off to work with a small glass heart tucked in his pocket.

Everywhere I go there are opportunities for more love and less fear. Everywhere I go.