Speaking in Tongues 2

[After yesterday’s prompt response, I feel like a surfer who’s mounted a powerful wave. So rather than searching for a new wave, I’m gonna ride this one until the energy’s gone.]

“No, no, I don’t. That’s crazy!” But as she spoke these words, Claire somehow knew she was responding to the old man in Mandarin, not English.

Eyes wide with alarm, the man pulled on the stop cable and stood up swiftly, racing to the front of the bus before Claire could move her legs out of his path. In the months she had travelled this route, she’d never seen the man move this quickly. She glanced out the side of the bus as it slowed to the stop, and knew this wasn’t where the man usually exited.

Claire replayed the conversation in her mind, as if there were some detail she had overlooked or misinterpreted, something that would bring sense to what she thought had just happened. She couldn’t recall exactly what the man had said, other than stupid bitch. He’d said it aloud, not under his breath, and was immediately surprised at her response. Certainly seemed like he thought they were speaking the same language — 

“Excuse me?” Claire looked up, saw a young man, pale skin and blonde hair, the very model of a handsome student, wearing a backpack and a braod smile. He pointed to Claire’s left, where the old man had been. “Is this seat open?”

Claire opened her mouth, then closed it suddenly, nodding and swinging her legs to the side to let the hunky student by. She’d detected an accent to his voice — European, German perhaps. There was a hostel in this city block, vacationing students were a frequent sight on the bus during the summer.  Her knowledge of the German languague was limited to reruns of Hogan’s Heroes, and she immediately realized how she could test her impression of the conversation she’d just had with the old man.

She turned and smiled at the student, his backpack resting on his legs. “Where are you from?”

The young man’s eyes widened in delighted surprise. “Baden-Wurttemberg! I live in Ulm, but go to university at Heidelberg!”

Claire smiled, nodded. She’d heard of Heidelberg, but the other two place names were foreign to her.

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