Friday, November 23, 2007
This afternoon, near the end of a bad day which was about to get worse, I saw a ghost waiting for the bus.
He was standing with a crowd of my patients, and he comes from the same part of the world, so at first I couldn't figure out why he looked familiar but somehow torn out of some past chapter of my life.
Then I remembered him. He was in a German class with me last year. Turkish guy, quiet, a keen student. He had been an Islamic teacher in Istanbul, and he'd moved here to Vienna with his family hoping to somehow make a better life for himself. He made Baklava for the class.
I shook his hand and for a few moments he looked like he was also trying to remember who the hell I was. Then he remembered me, too. Sort of.
Within about forty-five seconds, he told me that he was unemployed, seeing a doctor for depression, and had recently split up with his wife. Then, since we seemed to be going the same way, the ghost and I stood together for a tortured fifteen minutes, on the bus and then on the U-bahn, speaking mangled German and trying to make conversation, any conversation.
What do you say when someone you don't know very well tells you his life is falling apart?
I felt so bad for him. Vienna blows for lots of natural born Austrians, but it's got to be a very strange sort of hell for a immigrant who teaches the Koran. I'm sorry, I said. But I couldn't think of anything else to say that didn't sound false or patronizing or stupid or trivial.
So when we got to my subway stop, I just shook his hand and said,"Good Luck."
I should have taken it for an omen. A few minutes later, my day went all to hell.