Sinterklaas and the black Piets

I left my house at 5:00am. Trying to pretend it was a day just like any other, I held my stride in check. But soon my legs overrode my brain and I ran to the train station. The cold, misty, wintry air on that fifth of December burned my lungs like Dante’s inferno. When I arrived at the train station, an earlier train to Amsterdam had just pulled up to the platform. I took it. This train should have been faster than usual, not being weighed down by a lot of excess human baggage, but it was even slower. The constant screeching of the wheels on the track jangled my already raw nerves. Rich was coming! I had been waiting  for months to see him. Now the day had finally arrived.

The airport was half empty. Some noise to my right made me look down one of the corridors. It was Sinterklaas followed by two black Piets. As they about to pass by, one of the black Piets smiled at me, squeezed my hand and gave me a small packet of candy. No matter what anyone else said, the black Piets were the best part of Sinterklaas.

A dusting of snow lay on the ground, but it was harmless. It would never prevent an airplane from flying in from the United Arab Emirates. Would it? My heart skipped a beat. There was no snow in the UAE. What if their pilot didn’t know how to land in snow. Could they be sent to another place, leaving their passengers to find their own way back by bus? If that happened, I may never find Rich at all. I was so worried, I held my breath.

At exactly 7:18am, KLM announced the landing of flight 1503 out of Dubai. I ran to the gate after apologizing to an elderly man I nearly knocked down in my haste. The last fifteen minutes were excruciating. How can anyone take so long to deplane and come out? At last, the familar head full of tight black curls emerged in the doorway. Losing all control, I threw myself into his arms with such abandon, I nearly knocked him down. Rich’s slow grin spread over his face as he gave me a hug and asked where we could have breakfast. I thought it best to take him into town and eat there. It was only two subway stops away.

At 8:05, we got out of the subway and walked down the lively streets of Amsterdam. It was still pitch dark, with no sign of sunrise. Rich asked me what time it got light here, but instead of answering, I just shoved my hand deeper inside of his coat pocket. I had forgotten to bring my gloves with me. At last, we arrived at a small café with quaint wooden tables. We took a seat at a table overlooking one of the dozens of canals stretched in a network throughout the city. After breakfast, it started to get light, the kind of muffled twilight that spread over northern Europe in winter. Rich pointed at a store window and asked what something he saw there was. I was ashamed to tell him about black Piet, thinking it was in fact rather racist. Rich rolled his eyes but did not seem to be offended.

We took a boattour through the harbor. There was only one other person on the boat besides us and the tourguide. December was not the best time of the year for tourism. Rich didn’t care. Neither did I. We could have looked at  wooden blocks in shoeboxes for all I cared, as long as I was next to him.

Someone must have fastforwarded the clock – I suspect it was black Piet – because it was suddenly 12:30. We ordered some soup and a sandwich in another small, charming café in the middle of Amsterdam. At 14:00 we had to go back to the airport so that Rich could get on his plane to America. His entire European excursion was a seven-hour layover at Schiphol, nothing more. I was not allowed to go with him to the gate, of course, so we had to say good-bye in front of the security check. I was barely managing to cap a rising need to scream, when Rich suddenly pulled me into his arms in a rare display of real emotion. His heart pounded against mine. And then we had to part. After he disappeared through the security check, there was no reason for me to stay at the airport.

Swaying past the shops and fast-food restaurants, I felt as if I had been runover by a semi. The train home was much more crowded now than it had been in the morning. At one stop, the door opened and a black Piet came in. He looked tired from a long day of dealing with kids of all ages. I went over and sat down next to him. Then I reached into my pocket and pulled out the packet of candy the black Piet had given me in the airport. Just before we reached Zwolle, I pressed the packet in his hand and thanked him for his wonderful present.


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