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“What if we don’t wake up on time?”

Hamburg, November 2010

I woke up in a startling burst of consciousness, as though someone had poked me in my side. I blinked. I didn’t usually wake up without an alarm.

My eyes grew wide. My alarm.

I groped for my phone underneath my pillow, my breath suspended in my chest. My hand hit gold, and I quickly pulled it out and checked the screen.

Jolting upright, I turned to the lump beside me and shook it. “Wake up!”

Your head shifted on the pillow as you mumbled something I couldn’t understand.

I was already on my feet and hitting the lamp switch. Light flooded the small room, throwing shadows along the not-quite-white walls enclosing a space that looked nothing like it did in the photos. Not that it mattered now.

“Wake up,” I half-yelled at you as I shoved my legs into my jeans, “It’s (time). Our train’s leaving in x minutes.”

What?” Launching into a sitting position, you checked your phone and jumped out of bed.

I strode over to the tiny sink just beside the door and splashed water on my face.

Time. There was no time to go to the bathroom outside. Good thing we’d already taken our baths the night before and packed our stuff too.

Even better, our hotel was near the Hauptbahnhof—right across the street from it on a side road.

You took my place in front of the sink as soon as I finished. “What happened to our alarms?”

X hours earlier. My phone keeps ringing, waking me up.

Me: Hello?
Dad: Welcome home! We’re here at the parking lot. Where are you now?
Me: What? I’m in Hamburg.
Dad: Why are you still there? What happened? Was your flight cancelled?
Me: My flight’s not until (
time). Why are you at the airport already? …

Already dressed, I cursed as I crammed the rest of my things inside my bulging suitcase. “We must’ve cancelled them or something when my dad called.” Because when I hadn’t picked up the first time, he’d tried calling you too.

You cursed too. Moving fast, we fought our bags into submission and checked for stray items inside the room. Tiny spaces did come in handy, after all.

Bypassing the ancient elevator, we lumbered down the stairs as fast as we could given our load, not caring how noisy we were. You returned our key to the receptionist, and with a hurried “Danke,” and “Goodbye,” we burst into the dimly lit, abandoned street.

And we ran. With our luggage clattering across the pavement and our backpacks weighing us down, we ran.

For once, I barely noticed the chill in the air. My body felt overheated in my layered clothes, my chest crushed by the straps of my pack. With each step, my bags gained a pound, but there was no time to complain. Complaining took oxygen, and I needed all the oxygen I could get to make it to the train station. (Funny, but I had enough of it to spit out a curse or ten.)

There. There it was.

Stray pedestrians stared at us as we flew past them. Why were they up so early, anyway?

I pushed my legs harder. The crossing was right there.

A car drove past.

Time. There was no time to wait for the pedestrian light to turn green. We ran toward the massive stone and glass structure ahead of us as though our lives depended on it. I’d never been in such a hurry to leave a beautiful place before then.

We skidded inside the building, our breathing loud and labored.

“Where’s our platform?” I asked. Maybe it was you. Maybe we took turns asking—just as we took turns cursing and praying and cursing again.

Time. “X minutes.”

“We’ll make it.”

We ran across the hall. Hauled our feet and bags up to the second level. Our eyes scanned the area frantically. The platforms were below, but which one was ours?

Time. “There!”

My pulse pounding in my ears, I ran down the stairs beside you, dragging my luggage behind me. Bang, bang, bang, they went, my heart and my suitcase.

A smattering of people waited at our platform, but there was no train.

Time. “We’re going to make it.”

My feet faltered on the steps. It would round up my morning, I thought, if I tripped and fell down the stairs.

We were on the last few steps when the headlights of the train came into view.

Finally, I could breathe easy.



Photo by Sheila Jumao-as Robosa, edited by Marian Bartolome. Taken the night before, as we roamed the streets of Hamburg.

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