After a week in Paris with chatty friends, I looked forward to retreating into solace for a long afternoon train ride to southern France. As the train left the station, a young blonde mother in Capri pants and halter top put a girl who looked to be three or four years old into the second-class aisle seat next to me. Then the slender mother — without a second look — disappeared through the sliding door into the next compartment.
The little girl with a blue print T-shirt, striped pants, and sad brown eyes sighed. She sat without books or toys. The train’s first stop was three hours away.
The girl slouched into her seat and stretched her toes before her. Her black hair spread beyond her drooping shoulders. She squirmed and slid down the seat to the floor. There she turned around and inched back up. Pressing her face into the gray fabric of the seat, she stretched her arms out toward its back. Touching the seat back, she wriggled onto her right side, then her left.
I could relate. As the only child of a divorced and working mom, I was alone — or felt alone — much of the time growing up. I remembered the boredom of being a kid sitting in the backseat of a car.
“Bonjour,” I said. The little girl looked away. “Je suis américaine. Parlez-vous l’anglais?” I added, exhausting my French. She glanced at me, pouted, and turned her face toward the opposite window, where mowed hayfields stretched to a flat horizon.