The Little Traffic Light Men

I was flipping through the pages of a novel when I got recouped with that particular bookmark. A bookmark made of plastic with lenticular changing image of Ampelmännchen upon it. The uncanny word, in German, can literally be translated into “the little traffic light men”. A definition I still find rather offbeat, in a good way.

Not long ago I learned that the little traffic light men are symbols inherited from the times when Germany was split into the East and the West. Each region had different figures of Ampelmännchen. This bookmark, though, affixed the one East Germans are very proud of and keen to preserve by keeping them on their traffic lights. The kind of men who have big head, short legs, and are wearing the petit bourgeois hats.

I looked at the bookmark and remembered that it was one of the first presents he has ever given me. Bought two years ago, when he was going on a business trip in Berlin. Whichever city in the world he flies to, he always comes back with a memento for me to keep. With this bookmark sneaking through one of my belongings, now I cannot help to cherish our fondness of traveling and how it has brought us to where we are right at this moment.

I remember the years of 2010-2012. Even in those years, both of our jobs already demanded plenty of travels. Despite still only being friends, whenever one of us was going to travel, the other must have wished a “good luck” or “safe travels” to the other, at least via text. We were not that close, not at all, but the gestures somehow had always been there, as if those were what we were supposed to do to each other. Little that we knew we were going to travel to so many places together, not having to wish each other “safe travels” ever again.

Two years ago — just one week after we went on our first date, to be exact — I had to leave Jakarta to attend a conference in Vatican City for almost two weeks. We could only text each other and have video calls some time, making it felt like a trip that would have wreaked us apart. I got home just in time for my 22nd birthday, a day when he surprisingly showed up with a piece of cheesecake and candles for me to blow upon. On the contrary, the distance made us so much closer, I thought.

Nonetheless, just a few days later, I had to leave again to Shanghai to compete in an international university while he had to fly to Berlin for work. Another chance to blow the chance of being together, perhaps; turning us into nothing more than two fiddling dots located at two different parts of the world.

I was having late lunch at IKEA Shanghai with my friends when he let me know he was going to board and take off for Berlin. Just like the old days, I wished him to have good luck and safe travels. Only this time, I did it through a phone call.

“I wish I could brush a long kiss upon your forehead before I fly,” he said. All my blood, then, rushed to my cheeks, flushing them without my consent.

“I wish I could feel you brushing a long kiss upon my forehead before you fly,” I answered.

Off he went. But, apparently, the circumstances mixed time differences up and brought us even further than we used to be — something that we have gotten used to two years later now. Like today, when he and I got separated by 10 hours of time zone difference, and more than 16,000 units of kilometres.

In Berlin, he told me he really wished I were there, as he believed I would have loved the atmosphere. That I would have loved the ability to stroll around the vibrant streets of Germany. We had not officially been dating that time, but he had crafted dreams inside my mind, promising he would one day fulfil them.

As soon as he got back from Berlin, we knew we were going to sail the seas together.

A couple of years later now, things start to make more sense. One by one, they fell right into place — the places where we wished those things would fall into.

Here I am, sitting in the same land where he bought this Ampelmännchen bookmark, oveywroughtingly waiting for us to reunite. To travel the world side by side.

But for now, be my guest, Ampelmännchen.

Photo: Ampelmann.de

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