You really can attract them!
So said my mother in an email the other day. Although this statement could have applied to any one of midges, cold germs and mosquitos (amongst other things), she was actually referring to my incident with the Russian-speaking woman in Latvia. I mulled this over, for I had not looked at it from that angle before. I’d always thought that I just have a knack for putting myself into surreal situations. It had not occurred to me that perhaps – just perhaps! – the nutters and oddities actually find me. I am a giant loon-magnet, if you will. Remember the man who kissed me on a bench in Paris? The child who buried me in the sand in Parnu? It is a long list, when you start to think about it.
Anyway, I came back to the apartment on Friday evening and was greeted by Riho. Not one of the afore-mentioned loons, incidentally, but not exactly a shining example of non-eccentricity, either. My laptop battery ran out, I explained as I set down my bag and began rummaging in it, and also, an old man started harrassing me so I had to leave. He gave me a book.
Hold on, what?! asked a slightly confused Riho, at which point it dawned on me that this was possibly not a normal thing to happen to someone on an average day. I retrieved the book from my bag and, seeing his blank expression as he leafed through its yellowed pages, realised that some more details would be required.
Erm… where WERE you?! he asked in some confusion, realising that I couldn’t just have been sitting innocently in the mall with a coffee like hundreds of people do every day without any difficulties whatsoever.
Sitting in the mall, I responded, somewhat defensively.
It was just my luck that my laptop battery ran out at the exact moment that the old man next to me woke up with a start. He’d fallen asleep almost as soon as he’d sat down, and I’d just ignored him. This became a little more difficult to do when he began muttering quite loudly to himself and looking all around him as if he had no idea where he was or how he’d come to be there. When he started to direct his mutterings at me, there was only so long that I could pretend not to hear him, since I no longer had the cover of being engrossed in my typing.
I’m sorry, I don’t speak Estonian, I said eventually – although, as I was unable to make out a single word of his most likely drunken mumbling, I was merely guessing that Estonian was the language in which he was attempting to communicate. He continued his incessant babble, and I repeated my phrase in Estonian, which seemed to make a little more sense to him.
Unfortunately, the same force that prompted him to believe that he was forming clearly-spoken sentences and caused him to fall asleep in a crowded shopping centre also led him to feel that he could speak English. He could not, but, full credit to him, this didn’t stop him trying. In Estonian, the word order of the sentence is not nearly as important as in English. It’s practically irrelevant most of the time, as long as all the words are in there somewhere – for example, you could say Tomorrow I will go to the big market or I tomorrow the market big will go to and it won’t bother anyone. It’s great. My new companion, however, not only attempted to do this in English, but also seemed to believe that if the word order didn’t matter, the words themselves weren’t all that important, either.
Basically, he seemed to be forming largely verb-free sentences using every English word he’d ever heard, regardless of what they were or if he knew what they meant.
Very old, day, he said earnestly, gazing into my eyes, One… one very I day.
The worst part was that unlike my Russian-speaking friend from Riga, he seemed to expect answers, of which I had none.
I… I… he said, agitated now. Day one, very very yes I! Yes?
I looked helplessly at him as he waited for a response. I’m sorry, I said for the fourth or fifth time, I really don’t understand. I could probably have said The aliens are coming for you and the answer is 42 and it would have made just as much sense to him. Anyway, feeling somewhat embarrassed at the attention our conversation was attracting, I made preparations to get up and leave – at which point he produced a fabric-covered hardbacked book, seemingly from nowhere, and pressed it into my hand. Old! he said triumphantly, as if that explained everything. Confused, I reached it back to him and he put it into my hands again.
We played pass-the-parcel for a while with the book.
Very, very, I, old, day! he explained earnestly as I gave up and leafed through the book.
It is my book now. He insisted, and I feared that he might cry if I refused to take it. I have no idea what it is, as not only is it in Estonian but it is indeed rather old, and in an overly-decorative and difficult to read font. It smells musty. Maybe it is a first edition of a book written by the old man’s great great great great grandfather, and is worth a lot of money. Maybe it is a piece of missing treasure. No one can know these things.
Riho looked at me in amazement as I finished my tale, and handed me back my new book.
This sort of thing doesn’t happen to most people on a regular basis, does it? I asked, worriedly.
No, he said rather firmly. No, it does not.