Bebe’s raspy voice still comes back to me at unexpected times. A cold day in the North Country, when flip flops and shorts no longer suffice: I went swimming in the harbor yesterday and it was so FUCKING cold. Minor accomplishments (an aced exam, a summer job offer, a good email from an adviser): You’re magical, Maggie. There’s something magical about you. She was just a woman on a train, drunk and lonely. But I remember her.
It all began with a simple question: “Hvad læser du?” She sat down on the bench next to me at the train stop in Hedehusene, wearing all black—torn fishnets included. She leaned in close, although her raspy voice was loud enough for the whole platform to hear.
“Ronja,” I replied, holding up the Lindgren cover without even realizing that I understand Bebe’s Danish.
“Oh, English! You speak English? I know very little English, I know very, very little!” The woman beamed, proud that she could speak those few phrases to me. I laughed along with her and rattled off the small list of phrases I know in Danish: “Jeg skal have en sandwich,” “rødgrød med fløde.” I then described my Child Development core course and explained my practicum site at an after school program every Thursday. Our train to Copenhagen was approaching the platform in the rain.
“You want to be a teacher? Is that why you study school and kids?” She asked me.
I nodded, smiling at how easily we could understand each other amid our language barrier. “Yeah, I’d like to teach English to older kids. I really like to read and write, and I want them to like it, too.”
The woman suddenly grinned, throwing out her hand for me to reach and hold onto. “I’m a teacher.” She shook my hand, her long, dirty fingernails skimming my skin. “Wood. Wood cutting. You know, with the wood? I just love older kids. Because they hate their moms and they hate their dads and they hate the world and I just want them to know that it’s OKAY to hate everything! It’s OKAY to be angry! But you don’t have to go through it alone.”
We were on the train now and other Danes nearby began to look away, pretending not to listen to the loud woman, pretending to not see her torn fishnets or the way her dress barely covered all the essentials.
“So where are you teaching now?” I asked, wondering if maybe any of my classmates were completing their practicum at her school. Maybe I could visit her school someday—maybe we could have a reason to stay in touch after this single train ride in the rain.
Bebe’s face instantly fell; she looked away and quietly leaned in even closer. “I haven’t had a job for three whole months. It’s the third time this has happened. And I kept telling myself, you know, this will never happen to me. I’ll never end up like that.” When she looked back at me, I could see some tears lingering in the back of her Nordic blue eyes. Tears that I, too, have felt.
“They don’t know what they’re missing,” she muttered, quickly brushing her eyes and taking a swig from the crinkling plastic water bottle in her hands. This was when I first smelled the alcohol.
“Nye rejsende?” the trainmaster called out, stepping into our train car.
“Oh shit.” Bebe turned to me again. “I have no ticket. Pretend I’m asleep. I’m not here. Oh shit, I can’t afford a 750kr fine. I can’t even afford my apartment. Hey, do you want to come live in my apartment with me? My kids left me. And their dad, too. It’s in Østerbro. You are welcome to stay there whenever you like and shit—shit! Help me, I can’t get caught without a ticket!”
I held up my empty hands for her to see. “I’ll cross my fingers for you, but I don’t know how else I can help,” I told Bebe sadly, wanting to do more. She reached out for my hand again and held it tightly in hers as the trainmaster walked by, checking everyone’s tickets. And for some odd, magical reason, he did not even look at the woman whose hand I desperately held—the woman without a job and without a husband and without her kids. She only had looks from other Danish passengers who thought she was crazy and my small hand in hers, gripping tightly, to hold onto. The trainmaster walked into the next car and Bebe was safe.
“It’s all because of you!” She told me. “You’re magical! You said you’d cross your fingers and it worked! You know, “Maggie” is a magical name. You’re magic. Really.”
We walked through Central Station together, she still gripping my hand, steadying herself as she stumbled through the crowd and bent down to make silly faces at toddlers who walked in straighter lines than she could. Bebe insisted on walking me to my next train, as if I could not find it on my own and as if I was a foreigner in Denmark. Which I guess I was. But on this morning, on this train ride, in this rain, I felt right at home.
As I stepped inside the S-train, Bebe sadly called out, “You’re truly magical, Maggie. Don’t you ever forget that. I hope you find a beautiful boyfriend one day and you get married and have beautiful children and live a beautiful life. But don’t forget that your education always comes first, Magical Maggie. And don’t you ever forget me, just promise you won’t forget me…” The red doors slowly shut in her face.
It has been three years, but Bebe’s voice still rings in my head, unexpectedly, sadly, somehow still part of me. Don’t forget me, Magical Maggie. Don’t forget to remember. You don’t have to go through these things alone.