A young expatriate student is chilled by what she sees and thinks while walking the streets at night.

“I’m having an insomnia episode,” she said quite casually. “They happen.”

“That’s strange,” I replied. “I’ve never heard of anyone having an insomnia episode in the six months I’ve lived in Zaventem.”

“But you haven’t lived here your whole life like I have.”

Tineke is 28 years old. She’s lived in the same unit for 10 of those years. Prior to that, she lived in a house just a short distance across town. Zaventem just seems to be a part of her. Naturally, this made me a little more curious.

“You’ve lived here for 10 of those years, right?” I asked.

“In this apartement? I have.”

“So do you know who’s selling that place across the street?”

Tineke playfully scratched her chin. “Well, I’ll be a duck–––oh! It looks like Waters and Vandensavel Brokers!”

“Ha ha,” I said drily. “I mean, who–––”

“I know, I know. Strangely, I don’t really know who lives there.”

This made me gasp a little. I would have understood her response had she been talking about someone miles away, but not someone on her street. “Are you being serious? I mean, don’t you know, like, everyone here?”

“Everyone except they who live there.”

I SHOULD CLARIFY that I was being very serious.

Zaventem is probably the best city I’ve lived in. It’s a suburb of Brussels, and it’s nice to be near Brussels but not in it. I learned that when I came to Belgium eight months ago. I enrolled in a Dutch-language course in the capital, and intended to stay within the city limits for the length of the course until one of the administrators at the university helped me move into an apartment. Fortunately, he introduced me to Karel, a caring sexagenarian who wanted company. Agreeing to move in with him–––into his white house, which is a bike ride from both a train station and Brussels National Airport–––was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

And, of course, Karel lives in Zaventem. He’s also lived here his whole life, like Tineke, although he has more than twice the life she does. Every time he passes a local in the street, they chat like old-time pals. When he goes to the café in the afternoon, he finds someone different he didn’t talk to yesterday. When he goes to walk his own dog–––his is a Dutch Shepherd, so he can’t necessarily cary him like I carry Regi–––he takes a comfortable while, not just because of his slow walk (give him a break: He is in his sixties, after all) but also because he must stop to chat with persons X, Y, and Z.

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