Nice to meet you. Gilbert always thought it was so generic of a greeting. How was he supposed to find his soulmate with such a boring statement written on his right wrist. Though, he had to admit it was the more favorable of the two Words. He didn't like to think of the Last Words. They were so… strange. It was a question… not many people had questions on their wrists. And for Last Words they were strangely not-so-final. So, he didn't think about it too much, as he hoped the day he'd hear those Words was far away. He also wasn't bothered by that as much as he was extremely disgruntled that he'd been given such a plain First Words. At least he knew he would have to be introduced by a mutual friend, first, if he analyzed the context. Someone else would have to be there for the greeting to make sense, of course. But, his Words weren't something he really thought about.
A next-to-silent swear escaped Gilbert's lips as he realized that he had just missed the train. Unfortunately this was the line that would take him home, and walking wasn't an option this late into the night. He wandered into the main hall, taking out his phone and beginning to poke around on social media. He would be here for at least another fifteen minutes.
The train depot was empty, save for one other man who wandered in shortly after Gilbert. He was tall, thin, and his brown hair had been obviously thrown back by the autumn winds. An instrument case - a violin, Gilbert assumed - was hanging from his shoulder and was obviously weighing him down, as his left side was noticeably lower than his right. He couldn't help but notice his thin nose and silver-rimmed glasses for a moment. He supposed he was attractive, but he wasn't in the mood to be bothersome this late into the night - especially not to anyone who looked as helpless as this traveler.
The man was staring at a map in his hands, half-crumpled at the edges from where his fingers had permanently creased it. He adjusted his glasses and sighed, scanning over it again and again before looking up at the sign on the wall that read "Nollendorfplatz" and frowning. He muttered something to himself before looking around and taking a seat on the nearest bench.
Gilbert, playing a game mindlessly on his phone, paused and glanced up. He'd been living in Berlin his whole life and knew what a lost tourist looked like. But at this hour? Perhaps he had been invited to a party and was now hopelessly wandering alone.
If the man wanted to know how to get somewhere, he would answer, but best not to meddle in other people's business. Especially when he was already so tired. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and leaned against the brick wall, enjoying the serene silence as he waited for the next zug. It had been such a long day at work… the night shift never ended soon enough.
He heard the man sigh and the shuffle of paper echoed in the hall for a few moments. He looked over to see the man pocketing the map in his purple trench coat. As Gilbert glanced back down to check the time on his phone, the man spoke up after moments of shared audible stillness.
"Excuse me," the man interrupted the agreed-upon silence. He sniffed slightly, still wearing off the effects of the cold night air. "When is the next train coming?"
Gilbert sighed, feeling it difficult to keep his eyes open. He glanced down at his phone, 2:45. "Soon, hopefully."
"It's been a long time since I've been to Berlin, so I'm a bit lost on the U-Bahn here…" he stood up straight, his gloved hands in his pockets.
He had a distinct southern accent, definitely not from Berlin. Bavaria? Munich's underground was much less complex.
Gilbert shrugged. "I guess to someone who isn't used to Berlin's crazy lines it could get confusing." He rubbed his eyes.
"I just have this tendency to get lost, even in Vienna." The man said, not moving from his upright posture.
"Oh, Vienna," Gilbert laughed. "I was trying to pinpoint the accent. I was guessing Munich, but that didn't feel right. What's a Wienerblut doing up here?"
"I've never been called that before," the other man said, raising his tone in the middle as if to indicate disapproval. "But I'm here for Musikfest. One of the afterparties ran a little late."
"Oh, yeah," Gilbert thought aloud. "I forgot that was this week. Should've guessed, with the case and all. Of course an Austrian would come to town for the classical music festival." He shuffled over to the bench and stood in front of the stranger. "Mind if I sit here?"
The man shook his head. "Not at all, clearly we won't be out of here any time soon." He too, rubbed his eyes after he removed his glasses momentarily. "And why is the Berliner out so late?"
Gilbert sighed. "Graveyard shift. I'm ready for this day to end." He took a seat and propped one foot up onto the opposite knee and leaned back.
"I understand that…" The stranger trailed off; the silence between them didn't feel unnatural.
"Oh, I'm Gilbert, by the way." He said, looking over at the man.
"Roderich," he replied, making eye contact with him for a moment.
Gilbert nodded, feeling like that was enough acknowledgement for a casual meeting with a stranger. He didn't feel obligated to shake hands with someone he'd met on the U-Bahn at three in the morning.
"What instrument is that, violin, viola?" He pestered. Roderich seemed vaguely annoyed.
"It's a violin." He answered plainly, bringing it up between his knees now that it had been brought to his attention. "Do you play something?" Gil could tell he was just trying to be polite. His speech was drawn out and… aloof, a bit, Gilbert thought.
"Look, I'm just making casual conversation so I don't fall asleep waiting on the zug, I'm not actually trying to be annoying." He was normally impressed with his own social skills, but this late… or early… he couldn't bring himself to care.
"It's fine, I'm just… long day." The violinist turned at looked at the wall, a large advertisement for Berlin's tourist attractions present just above eye-level. It wasn't exactly fitting the mood as it was covered with smiling people and bright skies above the Reichstag.
"Yeah, I feel that…" Gilbert leaned back against the chipping brick wall, feeling the imprints of the individual stones sink into his coat. "I play the cello, but not even close to professional-level or anything."
Roderich shrugged. "It's not for everyone."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Gilbert leaned forward again, questioning this stranger's arrogance. "I'm plenty good at music."
Roderich rolled his eyes in what he probably thought was a subtle way, Gil decided. "I mean professionally playing. It's a lot of practice that most people simply don't have time for. I know I sometimes don't."
The Berliner frowned. "Oh." He knew he shouldn't be getting into arguments in this state of mind, and here he was. "Sorry, I just-"
"It's fine." Roderich stopped him. "I'm not attacking you. I'm sure you're a fine cellist." Even Roderich, who until now had seemed so put-together, gave in and began messing with the straps on his violin case to give his brain an activity.
"So… what pieces are you playing for Musikfest?" Gilbert asked, looking straight out at the opposite wall of the station, beginning to count the bricks as if he hadn't memorized every brick of Nollendorfplatz.
"Oh, just things I could pick up quickly. I'm just doing pre-concert solos at the moment, mostly things I've done in the past that I'm familiar with." Roderich began talking faster and faster, clearly excited to be talking about his career and hobby.
Suddenly Gilbert's mind lit up with an idea. "Hey, why don't you play me something. Keep the two of us awake."
Roderich laughed half-heartedly and quietly. "Working for free? I don't think so."
He pulled out a five-euro note from his back pocket. "One song, Weinerblut. Don't you have to make Mozart proud or whatever creed it is you
Austrians live by?" He laughed, reaching over to stick it in the pocket of his purple coat.
"Five euros?" the musician scoffed. "For five euros you get to look at the violin."
Gilbert laughed. "Well, that's all the cash I have on me. You Austrians are as expensive as they say." Roderich didn't answer, instead bringing the case up and laying it flat across his lap. He clicked open the clasps and removed the cloth, exposing a beautiful blonde-colored instrument with a golden E-string, a custom-designed scroll, the works. His gloved hands slowly removed it from the bed and gently caressed each curve and jutted edge.
"I'd let you touch it," he began. "But it's not actually mine, it's on loan from a friend and I'm honestly a little nervous to hold it myself."
"It's lovely…" Gilbert mused. "I wish I had an instrument that beautiful… I bought my current cello on a discount." He laughed as he looked over at Roderich, who for the first time in the conversation may have shown a smile.
"It is a beautiful instrument, yes." He slowly returned it to it's nest, covering it carefully and resealing it. "But who cares what the instrument looks like as long as you are making beautiful music?"
Gilbert paused. He supposed that his acquaintance was correct… he'd never thought of it that way. He watched as Roderich returned the cover to the case and zipped it all up into place again and set it down next to his feet. There were a few moments of silence as Roderich stared down at it and Gilbert stared at Roderich, taking much longer to process what he had heard.
He actually kind of liked this stranger, he was quite the pretty face, and had quite the brain in his head. If it weren't such an awkward way to meet someone, perhaps he would've considered asking him on a date.
"Well, where are you headed, Roderich?" Gilbert questioned, trying to keep the two of them awake.
Roderich paused, regrouping his dozing thoughts. "Ah, my hotel is… the Westin Grand Berlin." He nodded, reassuring them both.
Gilbert paused. "The Westin?" He looked up, remembering. "That's… east. You do know that this line we are waiting for goes west, correct?"
Roderich paused. "What...!"
"Yeah, Wienerblut, you must be holding that map upside-down. That goes east, they've got a piece of the wall there, right?"
"Oh, Sheisse," Roderich groaned. "I'm not even in the right place, as usual."
"No, actually, all you wanna do is go up those steps…" Suddenly his voice disappeared from under him as the train loudly entered the station. Of course, naturally the train would come at the only inconvenient time in the last half an hour.
The doors opened and Gilbert quickly got up and walked backwards towards the door. "Just take the U2 to Alexanderplatz and then take the U5 east, okay?"
Roderich suddenly looked concerned that his only source of reference was disappearing. "Where do I go from there!" He shouted, his Austrian accent making him more difficult to understand over the increased volume.
"Just google it!" Gilbert shouted as he turned to watch his step into the carriage.
"Ah… alright… danke," Roderich said, looking unsure. And then: "Nice to meet you!" The doors closed less than half a second after he finished speaking.
"You too," Gilbert said to nobody, as Roderich couldn't hear him. He watched his new acquaintance roll up his sleeves to remove his gloves and type something into his phone. Roderich paused, though, looking down at his wrist and turning around suddenly. He looked quite surprised, holding up an arm bent at the elbow into the air as the train disappeared into the tunnels.
"What was that about?" Gilbert wondered aloud. He turned and saw one other woman on the train with him, who had observed the quick-directions fiasco. She looked back at him as Roderich and the Nollendorfplatz station disappeared from sight.
"He looked like he was looking at his Words." She mused.
Gilbert hummed tiredly in return. "Oh, yeah. Guess so." He shrugged and pulled his own hands out of his pockets, looking down at his own Words for his own amusement. Then, he froze. "Mein Gott." He said, shaking.
In his moments of sleep-deprivation, he had completely forgotten about the Words he'd been carrying around his whole life…
When is the next train coming?
Nice to meet you.