I start to ask the man a question and he waves me closer. I follow and ask and thank him and he says, “Can I see your ticket please?”
This is when I realize. When I moved closer to the man, I walked into the ticket control area. And because I wasn’t sure where I was going yet, I didn’t validate my ticket when I crossed the boundary.
“Oh,” I say. “I’m sorry. It’s not validated. I can do that now.”
He hands it to another man with a notepad, and this man, brandishing a pen now, says, “I need to fine you 48 Euros. Can I see your ID?”
I try to explain, and he says, “This is the law. It’s written in English. The law is not just for you.”
And in this moment, something happens to me that has never happened before. I tell the guy off. Fully. Without an ounce of hesitation.
“I bought a ticket five minutes ago. I didn’t validate it yet because I wasn’t sure if I was going to actually take the train. This is ridiculous and I’m not paying anything.”
The man doesn’t budge. He writes things on a piece of paper and points me upstairs to the office and I am ready, enthusiastic even, about the prospect of shouting at the right person.
I am halfway up the escalator when I realize that I’ve been on the verge of tears through the whole exchange. They’re caught at the corners of my eyes but I will not let them fall. I will not.
Upstairs, a bunch of guys are sitting at a table with the same piece of paper I’ve been handed. They’re scribbling something on another sheet. I expect to be asked to take a seat, to lie, scream. I will not give them a cent. They can send me to jail. I don’t care.
I am not, however, asked to take a seat. I am handed the second piece of paper, the one the guys are all filling out.
“You fill out this form and e-mail it to us after August 18. Tell us why you shouldn’t have to pay the fine, and maybe you won’t have to pay.”
I debate — I really do — explaining to the woman that folded sheets of white paper cannot, as far as I know, be e-mailed anywhere, and then I realize. I’m being told to leave. In so many words and not in so many words. To shut up and go.
So I do.
On a bench outside, I collapse, horrified. The tears fall, maybe at what almost happened and maybe just about what did.