Pytor left his lunch companions before the meal ended. He knew what etiquette required. He had listened to Herr Farber and his blond friend insist it was the duty of every German to right the wrongs inflicted upon the Futerland. In between mouthfuls of sausage Herr Farber would expand on the virtuous of Germany. The conversation grew insufferable. There wasn’t much left of Pytor’s tongue to bite. So he folded his napkin and placed it on the table.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, “but the motion of the train and the coffee has made me queasy. I don’t want to spoil everyone’s lunch.” He got up and politely bowed to the group before Herr Farber could comment. He caught Katalyna’s eyes. She was not happy. Too bad. Why in the world did she accept the invitation from those miserable people?
He made it to his seat and leaned back. A nap was in order. He put his hat over his face.
“Attention,” the uniformed conductor said as he walked the length of the train car, “we will be arriving in Szczecin in twenty minutes. Please have your documents.”
Pytor froze. What if he was found out? What if they wouldn’t allow him to get to Berlin? His family? Yakob? His mind and heart raced. His hands turned cold. He had trouble swallowing. He must gain his composure. He forced himself to breathe and glimpsed at the passing scenery from the window. A Chopin melody came to him. He closed his eyes for a second or two and began to hum. It’s all right. His papers were in order. His Polish looks have never betrayed him. No one knows except, no… Katalyna. How would she…? She doesn’t. Not eating pork…? It was too expensive. He could only afford the strudel. Reich marks only went so far. He sat up. Everyone appeared at ease. The border was not an issue for them.
The door that separated his car from the next opened and Katalyna stepped through. She came towards him.
“Herr Doktor, my seat,” she pointed.
He stood to let her pass.
“You shouldn’t have left,” she said in a low voice. She took out a hairbrush from her purse.
“He was a boor.”
She ran the brush with brisk strokes through her hair several times. “That’s precisely why.”
“I don’t understand.”
She stared at him and then picked up her purse to put the brush away. “Oh, you are too much,” she laughed, “your innocence is… charming, to the point of either calculating or stupid. Do you think Herr Farber and his stummen kopf, dumb head girlfriend only happened to be on the train?”
“I don’t…I didn’t think…”
“Nothing happens by chance. When I got to the dinning car, it was as if they were waiting.”
He folded his hands in front of him. “What are you talking about? There is nothing to hide. This is a business trip. I’m not some thief or criminal. Maybe…” He turned to her and stared.
“Oh, Professor, apple strudel instead of pork schnitzel. What could be the reason?
He hoped he didn’t blush. “It’s hard to admit, but its finance. A professor’s salary is not large.”
“So it was money.” She seemed to think about it. “ I’m sorry to have thought anything else.”
He knew he should end this discussion. She was given a plausible explanation. An adwokat friend once advised about the danger of asking one too many questions. In music it was squeezing too many notes in a measure.
“Why did you think I didn’t order the schnitzel?” Good advice is only good if heeded.