The Social Sandwich, Part 8

This is the eighth in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

Do you talk to strangers when you travel alone? I tend not to. I tend to assume they’re not interested in talking to me. And besides, I always have a book to read, and if I spend the time talking I won’t be getting on with my reading.

But sometimes people start conversations with me, and sometimes they turn out to be interesting. That’s how I met the English woman who lives in the Netherlands. I don’t know her name, so I’ll call her Nonstop.

Nonstop first talked to me at Schiphol Airport when she saw me playing Scrabble on my phone as we waited by the gate for our flight to Southampton.

“Do you like the new version of Scrabble?” she asked, stealing my attention from the game.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I used to like being able to see the meanings of words, but otherwise it’s all right.”

Nonstop had several issues with the new version, mostly because she played with strangers.

“I only play with people I know,” I told her.

I thought I’d seen the end of Nonstop when we went through security and boarded the plane, but she appeared again in the seat next to mine. For an hour and a half, she kept talking. She was very friendly and what she had to say was interesting – for an hour and a half. She told me about her family and her job and why she ended up living in the Netherlands until I started to feel a bit overwhelmed and wasn’t altogether surprised to hear that her marriage didn’t last.

And then she told me about an online conversation she’d had with one of the strangers she played Scrabble with. Instead of just saying, “Goodbye,” she said, “Must go, head count, lights out.”

I wouldn’t have understood this, but the stranger understood and believed that Nonstop was in prison and asked what she’d done.

Nonstop replied, “Murdered my husband,” not expecting the stranger to take her seriously.

“He must have deserved it,” the stranger wrote back and continued to play Scrabble.

Finally, we landed, taxied, waited, said our goodbyes.

As I was remonstrating with the ticket machine at the railway station, I heard a voice behind me. “There’s a queue here, you know.”

“Just a minute,” I called, anxiety rising.

“It’s me.”

I turned round to see Nonstop smiling.

We waited for the same train while Nonstop told me all about the people she was going to visit. When we got on the train, the luggage area was full, so I couldn’t sit next to Nonstop because I had to find a place for my suitcase.

Actually, I wasn’t sorry.