My story "My Name is Daniel" was published in Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review this year. If you have not read it online yet, you can now read it here on my website. I hope you do. Please enjoy.
My Name is Daniel
by David H Weinberger
He rides the U-Bahn from the start in Pankow to somewhere past Potsdamer Platz, maybe even to the last stop at Ruhleben. Sometimes he gets off earlier. I get on at Pankow, the beginning, at the same time as him. He is always alone and always talking. He carries two overflowing canvas bags which he sets on the seat next to him. As he talks to himself, it seems that he is staring at his bags, but as I later learn he notices a great deal.
Normally, I exit at Potsdamer Platz, but on this Wednesday I had a day off. I sat next to his bags, listened closely to what he was saying, and planned to ride the U2 as long as he did. What follows is a journey across Berlin with his monologue, as best as I could understand it.
Early morning. I got my favorite corner seat on the U2. I usually take the corner seat and one more. That way I can spread out a bit. Cross one leg over my other leg and get a bit comfortable for the U-Bahn ride. I can get the corner seat because I get on at the start of the line in Pankow, where I usually sleep. Very few other riders get on at the stop. Nearly empty train at that point. Ride it to the end at Ruhleben. Or I get out before. Times the train gets too crowded I get out. Common for that to happen in Berlin. Lots of train riders. My name is Daniel. Nobody calls me that though. They call me crazy. Or lunatic. Or nothing at all. I just sit and talk. I’m not crazy. I talk quietly to myself to keep me company. I think everyone else hears mumbling. A group of young men get on board at Eberswalder. They all have long black beards. Youngsters like long beards these days. Not like me. I don’t shave because it is too much effort. They intentionally grow it long. Looks like Taliban to me. I know they’re not, but still. I don’t think I look like Taliban. I look like a crazy man because my beard is getting long and scraggly. But I’m not gonna shave it. Too much effort. Just have to watch out for lice. They crawl in your hair. Lay their eggs. Nothing to do about it. Life on the streets. Nothing in my beard though. Couple just got on with a dog. They’ve been out in the rain. They smell damp and the dog has that wet dog, rotten earthy smell. They sit near me. Couple seats down. I think they can hear me but they don’t look at me. Ignore me. They don’t know my name is Daniel. I once had a dog. Named Clemens. Irish setter I think. But it was yellow. Could it have been an Irish Setter if it was yellow? I don’t know. Cloudy memory in my head. But the dog was good. Obedient and friendly. Liked to have its belly rubbed. This wet dog here looks friendly. Bet it likes its belly rubbed. I wouldn’t do it though. That damp grainy fur. Doesn’t feel good. Even though it looks like a good dog. Like Clemens was. Too many dogs in Berlin. Shit all over and no one cleans up. I hate stepping in it. Soils my shoes and I have a hard time cleaning them. Sometimes I want to lay my blanket down behind some bushes but there’s too much dog shit. I get frustrated. This wet couple with the dog have little blue bags on the leash. Tells me they pick up after their dog. Good for them. Wish more were like them. Four stops now. More people on the train. Difficult to hear my own voice. But I still can even though I don’t shout like some other crazy people do. It’s almost at a whisper. I like it that way. I will leave when I can’t hear it anymore. It’s all I have, hearing my voice. I don’t like hearing the crazies yell. Makes no sense and hurts my head. They should be in a hospital or something. Not on the street. Not riding my trains. My name is Daniel. This is my corner seat traveling through Berlin in the U2. End of the line is my goal. Where’s everyone else going? They don’t tell me but still I wonder. I’m just going to another stop. Until the end of the line. But I have to get some food. Didn’t eat this morning before I got on the train. Maybe I can get some lunch. If I can find something. Six people sit across from me. I see them out of the corners of my eyes. They all have their faces in their phones. Those things are not just for calls anymore. I don’t know what they do with them though. Staring at them all the time. Sometimes their fingers move rapidly on the screens. Fingers shudder like they have Parkinson’s disease. Lots if iPhones. I can tell by the apple on the back. I’d like to make a call. But who would I call? My childhood buddy Martin. Hello Martin. This is Daniel. What’s up? Nothing here. Just riding the U2. How’s your mom and dad? Oh, they died? Sorry, it’s been a while. They were always so nice to me. Feeding me lunch because my parents never did. Those were good sandwiches. Remember when they drove us to the lake? They let us swim all day. They were nice folks. Well, good talking to you Martin. Talk again soon. Bye. That’s how it would go. Then call another. But I still don’t get the finger dancing on the phones. Can’t imagine what they are doing. Another stop. People off, more on. People come and go. All in their own worlds. They don’t listen to me. Just ignore me. There’s a man like me by the doors. ‘Cept he’s drinking a beer. Not supposed to drink on the trains but lots of folks do it. He looks like he doesn’t need that beer. Can hardly stand up. Probably already had a few. I don’t drink. Can’t afford it and it’s not good for me. Used to drink. Always got in trouble. One time got in a fight in a bar. Got the shit beat out of me because I was talking to some guy’s girl. He told me to stop, leave her alone, but I didn’t listen. Then I touched her arm. He dragged me outside and beat the shit out of me. I was plastered. I laughed the whole time even though it hurt like hell. Woke up in the morning in the street. Bloody and hung over. Haven’t had a drink since. Still smells good to me though. Music at the other end of the train car. Saxophone and electric piano, sounds like. I can’t see them, only hear them. Boring music. Wait, is it boring? Not really. Sounds a bit like jazz. Jazz that I know. Ellington? I decide it’s not too boring. I like it. They play a bit then stop and ask for money. They don’t ask me cause I’m too busy talking. They stopped playing but music is coming out of a boom box. They supplement the basic music with their instruments. I think that’s cheating. But you can’t bring a whole band on the U2. We finally stop at Potsdamer Platz. Always a big stop. Waves of people off and on. We wait for what seems like minutes. I know it’s not. If I keep talking the time will pass. But the crowds get deeper. Reminds me of when I lived in New York. Trains always busy. Body to body. Everyone touching. It made me feel unhealthy. But Berlin can get that way too. Rush hour the trains are just like they are in New York. Extremely full like in a small elevator with twenty people. No way out until the next stop. That’s why I like the corner seat. Crowds might push on my legs and shoulders but that’s all. They leave the rest of me alone. The man next to me usually gets out at Potsdamer Platz. Not today. He just sits there staring out the window. Wonder why he didn’t get out. Must have other plans today. Hope he doesn’t talk to me. Not much chance of that happening though. That rustling I hear. Sounds like reading a paper. But I don’t look up to see. I stare at my bag and hear the rustling. Lots of papers in Berlin. Some about the city, some about the world. I used to read the papers but not anymore. They say the worst things. So much going on it frightens me. I survive in Berlin. Anywhere else, I don’t know. Maybe I wouldn’t make it. Maybe I couldn’t survive. But someone on this train is reading a paper. Discovering the next calamity. Perhaps reading about a train wreck somewhere. A place somewhere else I hope. I have to get off this train soon. Too many people. Too much pushing and shoving. Too much noise and distraction. I can’t think. I can’t hear myself. Why are they so loud? They bother me so. But we arrive at the next station and many leave the train. Not so many enter. Quieter now. I can stay another station or two. Don’t have to leave just yet. Where do I want this train to take me? It never drops me where I want to be. Always another place which holds no meaning to me. Another empty space. Not empty of people of course. Empty of meaning. Of significance. Any place on the map. A symbolic colored dot on a map signifying a place with a name. A place with no meaning. So where to go? I could go back. Back in time to when I was married. Could this train take me there? To Janice? To her smell and her feel? She loved me I know. She took care of me. I met Janice in a bar of course. We were drinking gin and tonics. Or just gin. I can’t remember. But her presence made me forget myself. I bought her several drinks. We went home together. Janice and Daniel. Stayed together for years. How many years I can’t remember. She looked like the young lady leaning on the doors over there. Blond hair, smooth glowing skin. That all changed. I messed it up with my drinking. One day, no more Janice. No surprise. I have nothing to offer. Didn’t then, don’t now. The train keeps moving. Rattling through the underworld of this city. It’s where I feel the best. I don’t like it outside. Above or below the trains. Don’t like the light. The pressure of the air and the rain pulsing on me. Expecting of me. I need the rattle of the train. The endless bumps and violent shudders of curves. I need to feel tossed about by a train, not by crowds of people. That’s the feeling I like. The feeling I need. The constant pulsating that keeps track with my voice. The dog people finally leave and with them the memory of Clemens. It’s like I need a presence to remind me of my past. Like a ghost standing in for my past. But where do they all go? They get off the train, these ghosts, and travel away from me. I forget as soon as they are gone. Not like a ghost that haunts endlessly. A ghost who teases. Chases my thoughts and memories and then abruptly disappears along with my thoughts and memories. So long nice smelly dog. So long Clemens. Does anyone smell what I smell? A dank, musty smell. Is it me? Someone near me? It’s putrid. It can’t be me. My neighbor, perhaps. Maybe the one who replaced the dog people. Hope he leaves soon. I once had a neighbor who always made goulash. Beef goulash, chicken goulash, mushroom goulash. But always the same smell. The smell of garlic and paprika filled the floor. Sometimes it made me gag but sometimes it made me so hungry. He never shared the food, only the smell. It’s like now, someone is sharing their smell. But I guess that’s normal on trains. Even the trains have distinct smells. Each one a bit different, yet somehow the same. The U2 smells sweaty and aromatic. Not like the bad smell I am smelling. More like a homey smell. Like walking into your apartment after a week or two of travel. Empty except for the smell of closed spaces. I like that smell. Of course, I haven’t lived in an apartment for years now. I don’t like the smell I’m smelling now. But it could be me so I don’t complain. I wouldn’t complain anyway. I’ve not showered for weeks. Only washes in bathrooms. I try to stay clean but maybe I missed something. Something lingering. Hanging on to me regardless. I can’t understand the damn announcements. Not because they are in German, but because my ears don’t work so good. Never did. I always saw my parents’ lips moving but could barely hear a word they were saying. It was like a silent film. And then they hit me. When they were near me, I could hear them say they hit me because I don’t listen. But I listen. They didn’t understand. So, they spoke wordlessly and they hit violently. Didn’t change a thing. Still didn’t hear them. Any stop could be my stop. I don’t decide. The stop calls to me. Or the train is too crowded. Or I don’t like someone sharing the train. Lots of reasons for getting off a train. I have no reason to right now. Perhaps I’ll ride it to the end. And back again. Perhaps the next stop. Next stop is Zoologischer Garten. Always a big stop with lots of people coming and going. Ignoring me. No one knows my name is Daniel. I could get off here and have a meal at the soup kitchen. Always crowded but good warm food. Maybe I’ll wait. But the doors close so it’s too late. Don’t have to decide. The train rumbles on. Not many stops until the end of the line. Then I will need to exit or ride back. Get off at Zoologischer Garten to eat. Then back on to Pankow. A morning of riding. Train empties a bit more at each stop. Soon I will be the only one. The only one to hear my talking. Talking to Daniel. No one talks to me. I do.
He exits as he said at Zoologischer Garten and I ride the U2 back to Pankow. Who knows, maybe I’ll talk to Daniel someday. Or maybe I’ll just listen. Perhaps one day I will say, “Good morning, Daniel.”