The hot morning sun hit me in the face as I stepped outside the cool hallway of our apartment building in central Hamburg. It was a warm Sunday morning in August and past 25 degrees Celcius already.

We were late, much too late, as we had hurried down the stairs to the street where my yellow BMW Cabriolet was parked at the curb. It was 6:49 to be exact and I had promised my ex, Andreas, to deliver our soon-to-be six-year-old, Miranda, at the marina in Travemünde by eight. I’d woken up a little after half past seven, after having turned off the alarm on my phone an hour earlier, and realized that I had no time for the shower I badly needed. I quickly woke up Miranda, got her dressed and sat her down with one of the müsli bars she likes so much. I know, not the healthiest breakfast, but the fastest. And very popular.

To drive from the city centre of Hamburg to Travemünde in 70 minutes is, give or take, humanly possible, provided there is no construction work or other delays. I was standing behind the car in my blue cut-off jeans, my brown FC St. Pauli hoodie, and my old flip-flops with the remains of chipped-off neon green polish on my toenails, throwing the bags into the trunk as I heard Miranda’s high-pitched, innocent voice behind me:

“Mami! The wheel looks funny!”

I looked at the left front wheel of my beloved BMW, which happened to have a flat tyre.

“Scheiße!” I yelled, stamping my flip-flop on the pavement so it flew off.

“We’re not going to make it in time, Liebling. I will have to call Papi to tell him that we’re late,” I said, while simultaneously trying to get hold of the sandal with my toes.

“Will Papi be mad at us?” Miranda asked, sounding genuinely worried.

“No, Schätzchen. He’ll understand,” I lied, knowing Andreas well enough to realize that he is the kind of guy who would like to start the yacht voyage to the archipelago of southern Denmark with his daughter and his new girlfriend (ten years younger than me) just in time.

In the pocket of my hoodie, I found the pack with my last two cigarettes and lit one. Then, exhaling smoke, I considered our options and what to tell Andreas. I figured I needed to change the wheel as quickly as possible. Taking a train would take much longer.

And it’s not that I was afraid of changing the wheel. I had done it, once, many years ago. But when we, twice, had a flat tyre during our marriage, I happily stepped back and let Andreas do the work. So you could say I was out of practice.

I was looking through the glove compartment trying to find the manual — the original from the 1970s when my vintage BMW left the factory in Bavaria — as I heard a man’s voice behind me.

“Oh… you have a flat tyre,” the voice said.

I turned around and discovered that the deep male voice belonged to an athletic young boy who looked like hardly out of high school. He was dressed in black running shirt, tight shorts and Nike shoes. And very handsome with his harmonic features and curly blond hair.

“Yes. Thanks for the information!” I said, way too unfriendly, and took a greedy hit from my cigarette.

But my harsh tone didn’t scare him off.

“Can I help you?” he asked politely.

“Yes. We have to be at the marina in Travemünde in one hour. I don’t know if you can change a wheel in one minute,” I said sarcastically, blowing out smoke as I spoke.

“Oh. You’re going on a sailing trip in this fine weather?” he conversed.

“No. She is. I’m just delivering my daughter to my ex-husband and his new girlfriend.”

“You’re not supposed to say ‘she’ about somebody if she can hear it, Mami!” Miranda corrected me and took a step forward to introduce herself.

“I’m Miranda,” she said, and nodded toward the young man, having learned the lesson of not shaking hands in the age of Covid-19.

“I’m Lothar,” he nodded back with a smile.

The was a brief silence, which I broke by saying:

“And I’m Sara.”

I smiled at the young man for the first time and continued:

“And we are in a hurry. So I would really appreciate it if you would help us with the wheel.”

“I would. But you’re not going to make it to Travemünde in an hour.”

“I know. But then we’ll be late. There’s nothing to do about it.”

“Yes. There is.”

“What do you mean?”

I took another drag from my cigarette.

“I could drive you. I have a car.”

“What? Here?” I said, exhaling a plume of smoke.

“Right down the street.”

He pointed down the cosy street in the heart of the St. Georg neighbourhood where I had taken over my mother’s apartment when she passed away in the middle of my divorce. For a second I considered the dangers of getting infected with the Coronavirus by entering the car of a complete stranger. Then I thought of my impatient ex Andreas and jumped at the offer.

“Oh… Thank you… I will pay you of course.”

“No need. I have nothing better to do this morning anyway.”

“Well… then… thank you. Let me just get canlı bahis şirketleri the bags.”

I put the cigarette between my lips and took our bags from the open trunk of the BMW. As I was locking my car, Lothar grabbed our bags and started walking down the street. Miranda smiled and took my hand as we followed in Lothar’s footsteps.

He led us to a dark green, worn-out 1990s Opel Astra, parked riskily in front of a gateway.

“You’re from Stade?” I asked, pointing at the STD license plate.

“Yes originally. But I live in Hamburg now.”

“Then you need to have your car registered here,” I said in a tone that became far more condescending than I wanted it to be.

“I know. I just took it over from my parents this week.”

I butted out my half-smoked cigarette and threw it into a waste bin. The moment it dropped, I realized that I had now only one left in my pack.

I helped Miranda into the back seat of the remarkably vacuum-cleaned old Opel and sat down in the front seat on Lothar’s right hand side. He asked me for our exact destination, found it on his smartphone and programmed it to show him the way.

“You know… this is so kind of you. Thank you so much for taking us!” I said as he turned the key.

“You’re welcome! I’m sorry you have to go in this old wreck instead of your vintage BMW cabriolet. But this is the best I can do,” he shrugged.

“We’re just so grateful for your help. Aren’t we, Miranda?”

“Yes, Mami. Do you think we’ll be there on time?” my daughter asked from the back seat. I looked at my phone and tried to prepare a good answer.

“If we’re lucky,” Lothar cut in before I managed to say anything.

“It’s a very nice car, your BMW. It must have been expensive,” he said in my direction.

“Actually I inherited it a couple of months ago.”

“From your parents?”

“No. From a… former… employer.”

“Oh. He must have liked your work.”

“I guess he did.”

“What kind of work was that?”

“Well… I was… a model. For a very short time. Many years ago.”

“Oh! That doesn’t surprise me.”

“Which part? The short time? Or the many years?”

“That you were a model! You look like one!” he smiled.

We were silent for a while as Lothar maneuvered his old Astra through the narrow streets of central Hamburg. I looked behind me and noticed that Miranda was smiling, filled with expectation of her sailing trip, confident that we would make it in time and that her dad wouldn’t be angry.

“Feel free to smoke in my car,” Lothar said as we had entered a broader street.

“Thanks. But not when my daughter is inside. We have an agreement that I don’t smoke when we’re driving. Right, Miranda?”

“That’s a lie, Mami. You smoke all the time, when we’re in our new BMW.”

“Yes,” I admit. “When the top is down. But that’s in open air then. But when we were driving the old car, Papi’s VW, I never smoked. Right, Schätzchen?”

Miranda neither confirmed nor denied but continued in Lothar’s direction:

“Mami says that I can smoke when I grow up.”

“Does she?” Lothar said. “Do you want to start smoking, Miranda?”

My daughter paused to think. Then concluded:

“I think so.”

This was where I broke in:

“I really didn’t say you can smoke when you grow up. I said you can’t smoke as long as you are a child and that you should never start smoking, Schätzchen. Smoking is very bad for you.”

“But you smoke all the time. And you really, really like it.”

“Says who?”

“Papi told me.”

That put an end to that discussion. I didn’t want to question whatever my ex might have told her. She went on:

“Why don’t you stop smoking, if it’s so bad for you?”

“I can’t just stop. I’m addicted, Miranda.”

“What does ‘addicted’ mean?”

“It means… that I really want to smoke many cigarettes every day.”

“So it’s true what Papi told me?”

“I guess so… I don’t know exactly what he told you.”

“He told me that you really, really like cigarettes.”

“Yes. But I also really want to stop, because it’s bad for me.”

Another pause in the conversation. Then Miranda asked:

“Mami, what if I really want to smoke many cigarettes every day when I grow up?”

“But Schätzchen… you’re not going to want that.”

“How do you know?”

“Because if you don’t start to smoke, you won’t get addicted and then you won’t want to smoke.”

“But when I grow up, I can decide if I want to smoke.”

“Yes. But…”

Lothar entered the conversation:

“What about you?” he asked in my direction. “Were you grown up when you started?”

“Actually I was, yes. I was 19,” I informed him. Though I found this conversation completely unnecessary.


“Yes. Really! Is that so surprising?”

“Well… It’s late. Most smokers start when they’re around 13, 14, 15…”

“You’re not an adult, until you’re 18. And 19 is older than 18,” my daughter interjected from the back seat.

“That’s canlı kaçak iddaa right, Schätzchen. You know so many things!” I commented, hoping to steer away from the subject of smoking. But Lothar put the conversation right back on track:

“What on earth made you start smoking at 19?”

“Oh… That’s a long story,” I began, trying to signal to him with my facial expression that I didn’t want to talk about that in front of my daughter. “Could we take that on the way back to Hamburg?”

“Sure,” Lothar smiled at me.

I smiled back and we spent the next couple of minutes in silence.

Then Lothar started quizzing Miranda about her interests, her school start later in August and the sailing trip with her father. He seemed good with kids.

“Oh. You haven’t told me how old you are, Miranda.”

“I’m turning six on the 27th of August.”

“Oh, happy birthday!”

“Thank you. How old are you?”


Miranda thought for a moment.

“35!” she said with conviction. My age.

“No. I’m much younger. I’m 21,” he smiled.

“Then my Mami is… wait… 14 years older than you.”

I could be his mother. Technically.

“She’s good at math,” Lothar smiled in my direction. “And you don’t look 35.”

“So I’m told. By very polite people,” I smiled back at him.

“No. Honestly, Sara! I mean it!”

“Okay. Thanks then!”

“What does your Mami do when she’s not a model?” Lothar asked Miranda while smiling at me.

“Mami is not a model. She makes sick people healthy.”

I felt a need to take over the conversation and interrupt Lothar’s very skillful interview.

“I’m a nurse at the UKE. At the cancer center. And I’m afraid I can’t cure all our patients. But I try to help them,” I explained.

We were hot and sweaty despite the open windows. It was going to be another hot day and the air had a sultry quality. Under my brown FC St. Pauli hoodie with the frightening logo of skull and crossbones across the front, I was wearing merely a loose, sleeveless top that without a bra would leave many opportunities to look into my heavily tattooed cleavage over the low neckline and to admire my colourful tits from the sides through the generously wide armholes. I had skipped the bra that busy morning as I had planned to make the trip at the wheel of an open car in the chilly and windy morning hours. And here I was, sweating in this old, hardtop car with no air condition, wearing a much too warm hoodie that I hesitated to take off because Lothar would probably comment on my spectacular tattoos if I did.

But then he did exactly that even before I took it off.

“I really like your tattoos,” Lothar remarked, referring to the tattoos of fish, whales, seaweed and anchors that entirely cover my legs from the edge of my shorts to the tip of my toes.

“Thank you,” I smiled politely without actually wanting to discuss my maritime body art with a stranger on this early Sunday morning.

“What about your patients?” he plowed forward on the subject. “Don’t they comment on your tattoos?”

“You may not have noticed,” I said with a smile that was meant as a friendly, however decisive, brush-off, “that it’s only in porn movies that nurses wear extremely short, unbuttoned lab coats, push-up lace bras, high heels and fishnet stockings on their legs, which whey willingly spread. Personally, I wear long trousers, socks and very unsexy clogs in addition to my lab coat or T-shirt when I’m at work. And my forearms are completely tattoo-free. So my patients don’t get to see my tattoos at all. They’re part of my private life.”

He was silent for a while and I started to believe that he got the message: That I didn’t feel like discussing my tattoos. Right then. With him. In front of my daughter.

But he went on:

“What about the sweet little stars under your right ear?”

This guy was extremely observant. People are seldom aware of the two small stars, my very first tattoo from when I was in high school. They’re mostly hidden under my hair. In fact, I thought they were now.

“Actually… very few people notice them. But because you seem so obsessed with my tattoos, I might as well give you an introduction to the others. Just to get it over with.”

I unbuckled the seatbelt for a moment to remove the warm hoodie and took on the voice of a tourist guide as I buckled up again:

“Here on my left shoulder you see the red coat of arms of my home city, my Heimathafen, Hamburg: the castle with the three towers. On my right shoulder, which is unfortunately turned away from you at the moment, you will find the logo of the Football Club of St. Pauli. Across my back you have the words Hamburger Deern in cursive handwriting, which means, as you will know, ‘Hamburg Girl’ in our local Low German dialect. Below that there is a large anchor. Further down to the right you would find John, Paul, George and Ringo in their colourful Yellow Submarine, as they are also a part of Hamburg’s history. Scattered throughout my back canlı kaçak bahis and butt cheeks you would find a number of lighthouses from the Hamburg area. So overall you can say that my back is dedicated to a Hamburg theme.”

“That’s very impressive,” Lothar laughed nervously, finally seeming a tiny bit embarrassed.

I decided push it even further:

“And I’m not done yet. You might have wondered about the tentacles that seem to stretch from the front across my shoulders to the back?”

“Ehhh, no?”

“What you can only partly see right now is that both my breasts are tattooed as the bodies of two octopuses and that their tentacles, some of which stretch all the way down to my vagina and to my back, are entangled. My tattooist tells me they’re fighting.”


“Yes. You can see one of the tentacles right here,” I said and pointed to my shoulder.

Lothar stared at my shoulder with great interest for a very long moment.

“Watch the road, please!” I needed to remind him.

Miranda broke into the conversation from the back seat:

“Mami, what’s ‘tentacles’?”

“It’s the arms of the octopus. I’ve showed you my tattoo.”

“Can I see it now?”

“You can see the tentacle right here on my shoulder. I will show you the rest some other time.”

“Okay. And what’s a ‘vagina’?”

I knew this would come up.

“That’s the hole women and girls have between their legs, Schätzchen.”

“The peehole?”

“No. Not the peehole. Another hole.”

Luckily, Miranda seemed content with that explanation. And even Lothar was silent for a little while.

Of course, there had to be construction work just before Lübeck. I had to text Andreas that we would be a tiny bit late. I ended my text with a smiley face.

Andreas returned a brief “Okay” and no smiley face. Indicating that it was not at all okay.

When we finally arrived at the marina, Andreas was, smartphone in hand, watching out for my very visible BMW. It took a while before he noticed that we had gotten out of the old Astra and were now approaching him in a chain of three, holding hands, with Miranda in the middle and Lothar and I each carrying a bag. It was 8:34.

Miranda let go of our hands and ran toward her dad, hugging him.

Lothar and I walked closer and put down the bags in front of Andreas and Miranda.

“I’m so sorry, Andreas. I had a flat tyre.”

“We’d better get going. It’s going to rain heavily here. And we could have avoided it if we had left at eight. Up north, the weather is fine. Hello?” he nodded in Lothar’s direction.

“Hello,” said Lothar.

“This is our new friend Lothar,” Miranda explained.

“So you have a new friend?” Andreas said, looking at me. Two years into our lives as divorcees, he still showed a remarkable interest in my private life.

I felt a need to explain:

“We just met Lothar this morning. He was so kind to offer us a ride because of the flat tyre. So he’s a very new friend.”

“I see,” Andreas said. “We’d better get going. We’ve been ready for some time. And it really looks like it’s going to rain.”

He pointed to the dark clouds in the west.

I hugged Miranda goodbye. Then she gave Lothar a hug, turned around and ran toward the yacht where Andreas’ young and pretty girlfriend, Vanessa, was waving. Lothar and I stood on the jetty, watching the boat leave the harbour.

As I was sure Miranda couldn’t see me anymore, I turned around and picked the cigarette I had been thinking of since Hamburg from my pack. In that moment it started to rain in big, heavy drops. I lit my cigarette and looked around for a wastebasket for the empty pack and, not least, a dry place to smoke.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Lothar and held up my last cigarette. “I just need to smoke this before we leave.”

As the rain turned heavier, I noticed there was no decent shelter in sight.

“As I said, you’re more than welcome to smoke in the car,” Lothar offered.

I picked up my flip-flops and ran barefoot behind Lothar who was very fast. When we reached the Astra, my sleeveless top and my short jeans were soaked. We threw ourselves inside and closed the doors.

Lothar opened the ashtray that looked as if it had never been used.

“Are you sure this is all right?” I asked and pointed to my cigarette that was, surprisingly, still burning.

“Sure,” he answered. “It’s my car. And you can smoke all you want.”

“I can’t even open the window with this rain.”

“That’s okay. You seem to really need a cigarette.”

“That’s so true,” I said and inhaled deeply.

“I took over this car from my parents a week ago.”

“Yes. You told me.”

“Nobody ever smoked in this car. My father is a school principal and my mother is a dentist so they’re very anti-smoking by profession.”

I exhaled a plume of smoke to my right toward the closed window.

“I don’t think profession is relevant here. I’m a nurse at a cancer ward. And I smoke like a chimney,” I said while deflowering the car’s virgin ashtray with ash from my cigarette. “Actually I know several doctors who preach no smoking at work but smoke privately. I even dated an attending physician last year who insisted on smoking a Cohiba cigar each time we’d had sex.”



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