Somewhere in Rheinland Pfalz
Sometime early December 2019

I wonder why we like speaking foreign languages. The reason might be that words, in other than mother tongue, sound a little unreal. We still know their meaning, we learned it. Though they still seem like mere echoes of the meaning they carry. 

So when I told my colleagues to pull over so that I could pee in the middle of the abandoned parking lot, it was more of a mist coming out of my mouth during the cold evening rather than the sound itself. 

We were cheered up by the uncommon situation and started making jokes. I looked up and there it was, beautiful moon, not the full moon, yet the picturesque crescent, just like kids draw, when drawing the night sky. 

I felt glad to be on that very place under those very circumstances, despite being already very sick. I felt connected with my colleagues by the four-hour drive saying more (sincere) things than during last month’s when passing each other on the corridor or sharing the short moments before the meetings start when it feels like orchestra just sat together. Do you know that instrumental chaos before the Kapellmeister waves his hand and the silence settles? In our case, an impersonal pre-recorded voice announces: You joined the teleconference. Like hypnotized, we dive into focus. We repeat phrases we heard before, during some other meeting, words that kept us astonished, which is why we use them again, to astonish others. We try to stay human, yet the white walls, grey carpets, fluorescent electronic screens, too tight shirts, too high heels, and expectations, making it difficult not to forget that the world is colorful and not black and white as the suits of the male colleagues. Finally, cornered by too many open topics and too little understanding, we give in to frustrations and shower each other with more words with little meaning and deadlines. 

Do you also take this kind of showers in your job?

The next day during the audit introduction, I lost my voice. Whenever I opened my mouth, pathetic squeaks were coming out. After a while, I stopped trying, seeing the perplexed reactions my hurt vocal cords were causing on the faces of the audit participants.

Have you ever completely lost your voice?

Everyone was lovely and tentative, making me notice that it might be the words that obscure our real self and that once left unarmed by the shield of spoken language, we are left naked.

Around noon, I surrendered and let the Sales Manager drive me to the hotel. He seemed to be touched by my silence, so he took a side road to show me Rhine River and the city tower. He talked briefly about the town’s history, about French, Germans, Romans, Belgians, me looking for the Nibelungen! 

He mentioned he had had a similar health issue last week. He had to fly to Denmark, from there to the US and from there to China. On business. I felt empathy for both of us, business nomads, seasick from all the world trade waves.

Later on, he did run out of topics to talk about. Silence in the car was pressing at first, though we gave into it and suddenly it felt very right. Nevertheless, I started having real doubts about what I was doing and how it was making me feel. I tried to reassure myself that I chose to do this for those very moments: Connecting with people I would otherwise not meet on places I would otherwise not visit under circumstances that would otherwise not happen.

When saying goodbye by the hotel entrance, I was feverish and out of myself when passing the beautiful slender tree in a hotel lobby. I felt really low, still took care of some urgent stuff via texts and emails, before falling into the bed and finally, fully giving in to the pain, while watching the sunset. The feeble winter sun was projecting on a greyish blue sky and painting pink decent watercolor spectacles. 

I woke up shortly before my colleagues texted me it was time to eat.

That evening I tried to speak (as much as I could), being each time baffled by the horrid sounds coming from my mouth. I felt very vulnerable without the power of speech, unlike my colleagues know me, unlike I let them know me, so we were all surprised by this other me. We all found our ways how to deal with it. Like when one colleague said: It is ok, be silent. I will speak for you.

The next morning, my voice was completely gone. I did not greet back the receptionist and I felt a bit at unease, though, I kept my patience, thinking my voice was gone for a reason and that I should not hurry things. When it was my turn, I pointed at my neck and gestured with the palm of my hand: No speak. 

She must have thought I was deaf, as she started whispering to me and pointing at things. I did let her. I was too tired to explain. Anyway, I let people do what they feel is right without me feeling the need to correct them. They deserve it. We deserve it.

Are you correcting others often? Why?