Malmköping is not what youd call a bustling town, and this sunny weekday morning was no exception. Allan hadnt met a living soul since he had suddenly decided not to show up at his own hundredth birthday party. The station waiting room was almost empty when Allan shuffled in. Almost. On the right were two ticket windows, one closed. Behind the other sat a little man with small, round glasses, thin hair combed to one side, and a uniform vest. The man gave him an irritated look as he raised his eyes from his computer screen. Perhaps the current crowd was too much for him, because over in the corner stood a young man of slight build, with long greasy blond hair, a scraggly beard and a jean jacket with the words Never Again on the back.
Perhaps the young man was illiterate since he was pulling at the door to the handicapped restroom, as if the sign Out of order in black lettering against an orange-colored background had no meaning.
After a moment, he did move to the door to the restroom next to it, but there he faced a different problem. Evidently he didnt want to be parted from his big, grey suitcase on wheels, but the restroom was simply too small for the two of them. It seemed to Allan that the young man would either have to leave the suitcase outside while he relieved himself, or allow the suitcase to occupy the restroom, while he himself remained outside.
But Allan had more pressing concerns. Making an effort to lift his legs in the right sequence, he shuffled with small steps up to the little man in the open ticket window and enquired as to the possibility of public transport in some direction, any at all would do, within the next few minutes, and if there were, what would it cost?
The little man looked tired. He had probably lost track of things halfway through Allans inquiry, because after a few seconds, he said:
And where is it you want to go?
Allan took a deep breath, and reminded the little man that he had already stated that the actual destination, and for that matter the means of transport, were of less importance than a) the time of departure, and b) the cost.
The little man silently inspected his timetables and let Allans words sink in.
Bus number 202 departs for Strängnäs in three minutes. Would that work?
Yes, Allan thought it would. The little man told him that the bus departed from outside the terminal door and that it would be most convenient to buy a ticket directly from the driver.
Allan wondered what the little man did behind the window if he didnt sell tickets, but he didnt say anything. The little man possibly wondered the same thing. Allan thanked him for his help and tried to tip the hat he had in his haste not brought along.
The 100-year-old man sat down on one of the two empty benches, alone with his thoughts. The wretched birthday party at the home would start at three oclock, and that was in twelve minutes. At any moment they would be banging on the door to Allans room, and then all hell would break loose. He smiled at the thought.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, Allan saw that somebody was approaching. It was the slightly built young man heading straight for Allan with his big suitcase trailing behind him on four small wheels. Allan realized that he might not be able to avoid engaging the long-haired youth in conversation. Perhaps that wasnt so bad. He might gain insight into what todays young people thought about this and that.
A conversation did take place, but without the depth of social analysis Allan had anticipated. The young man came to a halt a few yards away, seemed to study the old man for a moment, and then said:
Allan replied in a friendly tone, saying that he wished him a good afternoon, and then asked him if there was some way he could be of service. It turned out that there was. The young man wanted Allan to keep an eye on the suitcase while the owner relieved himself. Or as he expressed it:
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