It’s 6pm and I’ve been out there since 8 this morning. Following the messy arrival in the emergency shelter in Tempelhof (full account here), I am at the central bus station with what remains of the 70 refugees that followed me and another volunteer as we helped them to make their way through the city.
We’re exhausted, but not as much as those people who have traveled for weeks in appalling conditions to reach Germany. They carry their lives in plastic bags, they look rough, tired, lifeless. About fifty people left by now, we only have about twenty problematic cases to deal with. For now, we have to wait for some buses to depart.
I’m now talking (and serving as a Hotspot) to a group of four Syrian men, they didn’t know each other before the train they took together last night from Freilassing, Austria, to Berlin. They get themselves some cigarettes as we wait for their bus to come. One of them offers one to me. I don’t smoke so I decline, he looks sorry since he wanted to thank me somehow for helping out.
He looks in his pockets, then into his Samaritan Purse’s backpack. I don’t dare to ask him on which Greek Island he was rescued when I see that bag. He takes out a little flask, opens it and gestures towards my hand. I put it forward, he takes it in his. His friends poke fun at him for touching me, we’re all around the same age so we joke around, each in our own language, which makes for funny misunderstanding. I tell them “stop that” in Arabic which makes everyone laugh. The flask is in fact a little roll-on perfume, which he filled with his favorite fragrance before leaving Damascus. He rolls it on my wrist. I smell it and as I like the fragrance I ask the man what’s its name. “Titanic”, he says. We look at each other, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, and he just bursts into laugh. Maybe he just invented the name on the spot. But the main thing is that he laughs, heartily. I can see he feels relieved to be here, despite the see, despite the dreadful conditions of their arrival in Europe. He’s just one bus and a few hours away from his family. What looks like total chaos to me is still not as bad as the bombs who fall on his country and on his loved ones.
Now, whenever Titanic will come up in a conversation, I won’t think about the sea but about a man from Damascus who once crossed the Mediterranean, whom I’ll most likely never see again and who one day put some perfume on my hand and laughed at the absurdity of this fragrance’s name.