Before Geraldine and I took the S-Bahn to Potsdam we had a bit of official business to take care of over on Holzmarktstrasse. In the building at number 15 we would defend ourselves against the fine we were issued the day before for possessing unstamped tickets on the tram. We’d refused to pay 120 Euros to the two plain clothed inspectors who had nabbed us at the stop near Alexanderplatz. The circumstances were extenuating, which was why we opted to plead our case to the Bahn’s Customer Service.
The fact was, when we got on at Metzer the tram was so crowded we would have had to push our way to the machine to validate our tickets. So be it. The inspectors, one carrying a portable credit card reader, came aboard a stop later at Mollstrasse. Once the doors closed and the tram was underway, they asked to see tickets. The passengers around us were prepared for the drill. They took theirs out. Hesitant, we did the same after a second request. Geraldine handed hers over with the explanation, as they could see we were blocked from getting to the machine. We had every intention to validate them when space to do that opened up. Logical enough, we looked at each other.
The taller of the two men spoke. Tickets had to be stamped once we got on. That was the rule. The rule we were required to follow just like every other tourist and Berliner.
We couldn’t get through the people to do that, Geraldine repeated. A hand drew attention to the blocked aisle. That didn’t matter, it’s right over there, the one with the beard pointed. The back and forth went on like that to the next stop. The passengers around us followed the discussion. A few sent disapproving looks our way.
At Memhardstrasse, we were asked to follow the men off the tram.
“The cost is sixty Euros each,” the one with the beard told us.
“What? How can you do this?” Geraldine’s voice was indignant.
“We were going to stamp them, there was no way to do it,” I said. “Why don’t you see that?”
“We will need to see your passports,” the one with the beard said.
“We don’t have them on us, our hotel keeps them,” Geraldine said.
“This is ridiculous.” I turned away from the men to show my disgust.
“We will have to call the police,” the tall one said.
“For what?” Geraldine said.
“For not having your passports,” the tall one said.
“Go ahead, call them,” I said.
It turned out, there was a police station close by in Alexanderplatz, a prefab metal building with a dozen windows. Inside, a policeman came out to the waiting area to talk to us. He had a relaxed manner and seemed to wonder what we, a couple of middle-aged tourists, were doing there? Though when it came to the fine, he deferred to the inspectors. That was up to them. There was nothing he could do about that, he explained with a shrug.
In lieu of passports, we took out our driver licenses, which proved to be satisfactory identification for the policeman. The inspector with the beard used that information to write out our fines. And that was when we found out we didn’t have to pay right then. If we wanted to, we could go to a Bahn office the next morning to dispute it.
That’s what we’d do, Geraldine said. We’d use some of our precious vacation time. We didn’t agree with any of it. Letting us stamp our passes as we intended to should have been good enough. Taking us to the police station for not having passports was over the top.
On the ride to Holzmarktstrasse we agreed Geraldine would do the talking. She was the cooler of us. Better on her feet. In a first floor office, the man on the other side of the glass listened as she described how we wanted to get to the machine. We had every intention to stamp our passes, but we didn’t want to be pushy. We were tourists in a strange city. We didn’t have our passports so we were taken to the police station! The police station, Geraldine repeated with emphasis. The man shook his head as if confused. “I don’t know why,” he said. Then he smiled. He’d made his decision. We still had to pay the fine. That was the rule for everyone.
From there it was a short walk to the Jannowitzbrucke station. On the S-Bahn Geraldine took out her phone. She stared at it in silence all the way to Potsdam. When the train stopped there she looked at me, and said, “You could have squeezed your way through those people to stamp our tickets and everyone on the tram knew it.”
BIO: Paul Perilli lives in Brooklyn, NY. His fiction and nonfiction have recently been published in places such as The Transnational, Thema, Numero Cinq, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Overland, and others. His story ‘Orwell’s Year’ appears as a chapbook from Blue Cubicle Press. Another of his story’s ‘Market & Fifth, San Francisco, 1986’ won the 2019 Jerry Jazz Musician short fiction contest. Paul’s chapbook of 4 stories ‘A Nice Place to Live’ is out at Cyberwit.
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