A ‘strange coincidence’, to use a phrase…

…by which such things are settled nowadays.

—Lord Byron

I have traveled between Toronto and Windsor a few times now and had never taken the bus. Due to sheer lack of foresight, I didn’t book my train tickets in time for this last weekend and had to go by bus or pay an extra $80. Well, I chose the bus and on the uncomfortable journey to Windsor, forgot that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet) Anyway, I’m not speaking of ghosts.

As a general rule, I like my journeys to be silent. I like to read a book, listen to some music, things like that. I’m not too fond of making conversation with strangers. While waiting for the bus to Windsor, I smiled at one of the girls standing in the queue near me and she smiled back.

She asked me where I was going and told me that she was going to Chicago. “Oh,” I said, “‘The Windy City’.” She just smiled back.

She got on the bus just after me and was taking a seat behind my window seat, when she said, “Do you mind if I sit with you?”

Somewhere in my head, I sighed, but said, “No, of course not.”

“I’ll sit with you uptil Windsor and when you get off, I can move to the window seat. I like to rest my head against it when I sleep, you know, like this..” She tilted her head a little.

I smiled at her.

She told me she was from Germany, traveling all over Canada and the US. Her boyfriend hadn’t been able to get time off work and she was between jobs at the moment so before she started her next job, she wanted to travel a little and that was what she was doing. We talked about things in general, life in Canada vs life in India vs life in Germany, US politics, Obama, McCain, Palin, the debates. I silently thanked God that I had recently subscribed to and started reading the newspaper so I could actually have an intelligent discussion.

She mentions something about a church. “Are you very religious?” I asked her, I had got the feeling she wasn’t because of something she’d said earlier.

“I’m not,” she replied. “No one has ever proved God’s existence to me. I’d rather believe scientists, they have something to show for their claims.” She said she goes to the Lutheran church and pays the fee and everything. She told me how her boyfriend’s family is very Catholic and she doesn’t want to be too vocal about her possible agnosticism. “How can there be so many different Gods?” she said. “It isn’t possible, so I don’t believe in any.”

After we cross London, a friend calls me on my cellphone. When I finish talking, she seems to be asleep, so I quietly pull out my iPod and plug in my earphones and listen to Stephen King’s ‘Lullaby’. The book is about a song that can kill people if you even think it in their direction and people were singing it to get their infants to sleep with no knowledge of the after-effects. The narrator really bothers me. He adds the word ‘and’ nearly everywhere for no reason! “And she says..”, “And he replies…”, “And Henderson says…” Driving me NUTS! Am I too nit-picky? Possibly. That’s why I prefer reading. I don’t know if I can get used to audio books. Anyway, that may be for another post.

On Sunday I’m back where I had arrived in Windsor two days ago. At the Greyhound station, I noticed a woman looking at me. She must have been in her mid to late forties. I didn’t pay too much attention to it; I kept talking to my boyfriend about the next weekend, asking him to do his best to come to Toronto.

When I got on the bus, thankfully the seat next to me remained empty. I was glad to have a seat for my huge tote bag so it didn’t have to squash me. I resumed listening to ‘Lullaby’ and eventually stretched out on the two seats, making myself comfortable.

When we reached London, the lights in the bus were switched on, so I opened my eyes momentarily. On the other side of the aisle, opposite me (my back was leaning against the window), sat the lady who’d been looking at me at the bus station. She had a small smile on her face, so I smiled back at her and closed my eyes, going back to the “book”. We were going to be waiting there for another 20 minutes, the bus driver announced. Soon I heard a faint sound and opened my eyes just a little and caught a glimpse of the lady standing near my seat. I closed my eyes again, pretending to be immersed in the “music” I was evidently listening to. “Hello,” I heard a faint voice say. I had to look up now. So I looked at her. “Do you have any Tylenol?” she asked.

I thought about it. Did I have any? “No, I’m so sorry,” I said. “I don’t have any.”

“I have such a terrible headache, you know. My mother passed away 3 days ago and I have been crying so much…”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said. The lady had such a pained look on her kind face.

She was a small lady, dressed in a little black pantsuit, olive skinned, shoulder-length dark hair pulled back with simple hair combs, her black shawl draped over the seat in front of her. “I usually carry some Tylenol with me, but I just forgot this time and I asked this other person who was sitting here,” she pointed to the seat behind me, “and she didn’t have any either.”

“I’m really very sorry,” I said. “I wish I could help you.” I looked outside the bus, hoping to see a pharmacy or even a convenience store.

“I don’t travel by bus,” she said. “This is the first time. I have to go to Ottawa to have my passport renewed and the timing was convenient. I always take the train.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. “I always travel by train too. This is my first trip by bus. And hopefully my last..haha.”

“You know,” the lady said, “you look just like my best friend.”

“Really?” I asked, smiling.

“Yes, you look exactly like her! She must be about 30 years older, but when she was young…” Her voice trailed off and she had a wistful look on her face. “She lives in Australia now, you know. We haven’t met in over 20 years.”

“That’s a long time,” I said.

“Yes, it is,” she agreed and nodded a little. Her voice sounded very sad. “I miss her so much, you know. We had lost each other. I found her through the Internet. We had completely lost each other.”

“It’s amazing that you found her after all this while,” I said. “I’m sure you’re happy to be back in touch with her.”

“Yes, that is a good thing. I am happy I can talk to her again.”

New passengers started boarding the bus and I turned to look towards the entrance of the bus. “Oh my God,” she says, “When you turn…you look just like her. It’s so strange. You look exactly like her. I saw you at the bus station, with your boyfriend or your brother, I don’t know…but I saw you and you’re just like her.” She seemed very struck by it.

I didn’t know what to say, so I smiled. “So beautiful, even your smile is like hers…” she said kindly.

“Thank you,” I mumbled…If she pays her friend a compliment, she thinks it applies to me too, right?

Two girls entered the bus and ask the lady if one of them can sit next to her and the other would sit next to me. “Sure,” she says.

The girls settle down a little and the lady says, “Why don’t you two sit here together and I’ll sit there..” She points to the seat next to mine.

“That’s so sweet!” the girls say in unison.

When she sat next to me, she started telling me about her life. She talked about her husband and how he tries to cheer her up. She talked about her daughter and her son, her mother, her grandmother, her father-in-law, her mother-in-law…Nothing but kind words for every person she spoke about. She told me about her brothers and sisters, her beautiful niece who looks like a doll.

She told me that her husband says that one decides his own time to die. “He says,” she told me, “that he will die on a warm, sunny afternoon in late July.” She laughed. “He says these things, you know,” she said. “He’s such a nice man…I’m four years older than him.”

Casually, I ask, “Did you ever find the age difference to be a problem?”

“Oh no!” she said. “Never! It’s only a problem if you let it be one. He never made me feel that I’m older.” She pauses for a second. “When we started going out, you know, I didn’t know his age. When he asked me to marry him and I found out he was younger then I said ‘I’m not going to marry someone so much younger than me.’ But it didn’t make a difference, because he never let me feel that I was older.”

I nodded, absorbing every word she said.

“Don’t get married too quickly,” she said. “Take your time. Enjoy your life. Don’t get married too early.”

We were quiet for a few moments. “I am not very religious, you know. I mean, we are Muslim, but we don’t practice it. My husband says that religion is just a way of dividing people.”

“I agree,” I said. “That was what it was meant to do, to control them and give them rules to live with.”

“What do you believe in?” she asked. “You must be Hindu.”

“I believe in living a good life,” I said. “It’s your deeds that matter.”

The lady said something about reincarnation.

“I do believe in that,” I said.

“You do?”

“Yes, I believe that the soul is ageless and it continues living, in different bodies, through different periods of time. Souls always meet again. It’s only the body that dies and that we lose.”

Somehow that seemed to calm her a little. “I hope I can make it for the fortieth day of my mother’s…”

“I hope so too.”

“My daughter’s been such a support to me. I love my children. My life is just about them” She told me about her daughter, the law student. She broke up with her boyfriend of 4 years recently. They wanted different things, the lady told me. He wanted to travel and she just wanted to settle down and she didn’t want to hold him back either. “She wants someone well-grounded who is ready to settle down. I asked her what she wants in a man. She told me that they should be compatible, and he should have good genes. She wants beautiful and healthy children.” She laughed.

“That makes perfect sense,” I said. That does cover nearly everything, doesn’t it?

“My daughter is very sensible. She is very practical and logical. He wants her back now, but I don’t think they should get back together. She doesn’t think it’s right for her, so I don’t think they should.”

I listened intently to everything she said. It was all so interesting and seemed so relevant somehow.

“Men are like hunters, you know. That is what they have done since the beginning. I told my husband to get me a jar of jam from the fridge. He couldn’t find it. He kept asking me where it is. I went up to the fridge and showed him. ‘It’s right there in front of you!’ I said. He said, ‘We’re hunters. If the target is moving about we can see it and we will track it down and get it. But if it’s sitting still, then we can’t spot it.’ That is how they are in relationships also, you know.”

How interesting! Did that not make sense? I could picture that theory fitting into the context of relationships so easily.

Profound thoughts. “They say people who live together start to look alike. Of course, they do! You know why? They laughed at the same things.”

I am lost in thought. How come I have never heard this before? There could not be a better reason. I probably haven’t read enough about this, I assume.

“They lived the same life, they had the same expression for the sadness or happiness in their life. They experienced the same things. Their expressions shape their face. This is just my take on it,” she adds, as a sort of disclaimer.

“I also believe,” she said, “that there is someone out there for everyone. You only have to be very lucky. Lucky enough to live at the same time, in the same place and meet. If you have to cross seas to meet him, do it. Your life will be worth it.” She told me a little more about her daughter’s love life and her hectic daily schedules. We were entering Toronto. She asked me if I have a boyfriend. I smiled and said, “Yes, I do…”

“Oh! Was he the young man who was with you at the bus?”

“Yes.” I continued smiling.

“How old is he?”

“He’s four years younger than me,” I said.

She stared at me in shock for a minute. Then she patted my hand and looked away. “This cannot be a coincidence,” she said.

I said, “That was why I asked you if age was ever an issue when you told me about your husband,” for the lack of anything better to say.

“You look like my best friend, you are my daughter’s age, and your similarities with me are…It’s like I’m talking to my youth.”

I didn’t have anything to say.

“Listen to me,” she said. “A woman needs to feel protected. That’s just how we are. We may be independent, but we need that. If you feel like you are older then it will never work.”

I nod silently.

“If you have any doubt—any at all—don’t do it. I am speaking from experience.” She looks down and mumbles, “This is very strange.”

She gave me her email address, her phone number and her mailing address and said she would love to hear from me and she wants to see me when I come to Windsor again.

We reached the bus terminal, and got off the bus. She shook my hand and I gave her a hug.

“It was lovely meeting you,” I said. And I meant it.

6 thoughts on “A ‘strange coincidence’, to use a phrase…

  1. Oy vey! Sorry i missed your comment and am replying after so long!
    Thanks, Rohan..! =) It means a lot! :) I didn’t know anyone visited or read..haha..Thanks..

  2. Yea, I did..we kept in touch for a little while, but then things got busy. I’m thinking of getting back in touch with her and meeting up sometime.

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