In my case, only enough to equate to twenty percent.
The train that day toward the Hils calmly slowed down to a standstill on the tracks. A couple of newspapers ruffled, but no one looked up almost as if thinking that this was not the day for a problem with the train. I continued reading page 41 of An Edible History of Humanity and the content businessman next to me scrolled through his music. Or checked email, I wasn’t sure. A young woman laughed under her breath at an article in her magazine and the twenty-year-old across from her continued to look out the window, at this point onto a static scene. All these activities sufficed to passing the empty time on a train commute. Over the loud speaker the conductor announced:
"Goede morgen… dit trein…vertrekt op vijf minute..."
I understood twenty percent of the speech, but eighty percent of everyone’s actions around me. The businessman did not take off his headphones; the young woman flipped through her magazine, searching for another humorous anecdote; and the twenty-year-old, well, he fell asleep. No one cared, so in effect, I did not either. It’s the 80/20 language split that for the last six months commanded my reactions to situations with a usually high success rate. And not just by watching others, but by interpreting the orientation of a city as well. If lost in an area off of the laminated map dependably tucked in my purse, and before taking out an smart phone, simply looking up to observe the direction of the trams, the flow of traffic, and whether certain buildings are visible from my vantage point could put me on the right course. Never a girl scout - I do not know what side moss grows on trees, or how to track animal footprints - but I can figure out my way around without a compass and I didn’t even receive an emblematic badge for it.
My reading advanced to page 42 and the train progressed toward the Hils.
Even at six something in the morning during the first sign of recognizably colder temperatures, only twenty percent of language afforded me the ability to read a situation. A bitter veil cloaked that day. Of course the already quiescent morning stood even more idle than usual with the negative five degree Celsius temperature straining its early hums. The air floated hollow between the two sides of the tram stop, and indiscernible activity on the tracks three blocks down appeared to be the reason. Difficult though, my sleepy eyes barely able to differentiate the vehicles parked next to or on top of the train tracks. Was that truck’s rotating light for an apartment emergency or track repair?
The scene lacked its usual suspects: the woman with the pinched face wearing a drab tan trench coat and outgrown haircut, the little lady with the rolling shopping cart who, though could stand absolutely anywhere on the empty tram, frequently found her place a couple a feet in front of me. Cars did not even pass through this part of Ferdinand Bolstraat and other than the couple across the way who looked like out-of-towners, no one else waited for tram twelve or twenty five. After an exchange of sentences, the couple finally moved off the platform, only then was I able to see the sign behind them:
Halte...tram 12 en 25…werkzaamheden...
I immediately turned away and started walking.