Long ago while on the metro, I was seated adjacent to a middle-aged well dressed lady who had a small book open and was scribbling into it at a steady pace. My curiosity had gotten the better of me and I stared at her without realizing I was.
You see, I love people watching. I love observing their little quirks, what makes them tick and one thing leads to another and am building tragic love stories into their lives or creating grander versions of where they came from and how the world will surprise them tomorrow. They didn’t call me a dreamer for nothing I suppose!
So the lady looked up and out the window, pursed her lips, squinted her eyes into a distance and her brow furrowed. There really was nothing out there to see, but the gray stony walls of the underground tunnel, but she stared into the distance alright. I watched her stare into the distance. Without a warning, she looked at my reflection in the glass window and smiled at me. Instinctively, I smiled back, and averted my eyes. Embarrassed at being caught staring, embarrassed for my own wild dreams for her.
She turned her neck back at me and asked me in a soft simple voice.
“Where are we? I lost track of time.”
I mumbled the station and glanced up at the map to help me out, coz since I had to get off at the last stop anyway, I was not keeping track myself.
I had no idea why she explained herself but she did. “I write things down of the places I don’t want to go to anymore, and then I staple them down, so I don’t accidentally go there.”
I nod my head, ike that made perfect sense,. As an adult, at once confused and on the verge of shame as I felt an intruder into her mind-space, and making what I think was a half-baked attempt to look nonchalant. Yet, there was that inquisitive child in me who wanted answers. What did she mean? Places? What places? Like travel? She didn’t look like she was traveling? Except from work, just like the rest of us? What are these places that she doesn’t want to go anymore?
..and without a blink, all of these questions steadily poured out of my wide brown eyes. The one outlier in my body language that I can most likely live without, but cannot. It’s a curse and a blessing depending on the answers I get from the recipients I aim those eyes at. This time it was a blessing, coz she miles again, a knowing smile, with her nose crinkling at the corners where her blue eyes met and drew themselves back into laughing lines, clear crows feet that belied the age that the rest of her assured.
Damn those eyes. They didn’t call them windows to our soul for nothing.
She started speaking, low and clear and drifting in and out of my path, like she was talking to no one in particular.
“There are places that our heart and mind takes us. Places that we don’t always want to go. Happy rolling hills and the meadows and the ferris wheels in the county fair, and the hot tub in our backyard and the family kitchen with the aromas of thanksgiving dinners, and the diaper smells mixed with baby formula during midnights. They are wonderful aren’t they? Pleasant and happy memories and flashes of life that wrote memoirs in our heart. The chapters by which we mark our lives in this journey. They don;t need reminders or jogs for us to bring back to our present and toss them around, play ball with them and then folks them neatly and tuck them away in their proper place, filed away for later references. Those are the places that we always want to go back to.”
I smile and nod at the steadiness with which she recounted them all, like she recited from a script, a well worn script. One with dog ears and smudged pencil lines, and folded numerous times, going yellow with age.
“Then there are places that I don’t go anymore. You know the kind am taking about.” She paused and looked at me with an eyebrow raised, and a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
I knew where this conversation was going. I turn back at the window and stare out. Thinking back to the places that I didn’t want to go.
“Tears forming icicles, from harsh barren terrain. Without a living thing in sight. The places with such thick trees that they form a barricade hard to scale through. The kind of place where the only whisper is of the voice in your head that tells you repeatedly that you are alone and that no one will ever find you. Like when you are spinning on the top of that very same ferris wheel and everyone else has disappeared. Those places. I write those down and staple them down.”
“Does it help?”
“Mostly. If I go to the same place twice, I write and then burn the paper. Symbolic, but it helps me. I never go to those places again.”
She shrugs. I look through her holding me down yet failing.
“We are nomads. In our head. Yet, we are also survivors. We have to burn the bridges that we do not want to cross anymore.”
I nod and turn my misty eyes out through the window.
“Try it sometime, I can tell you visit the same dark places a lot.”
She whispers into my ear as she gets up and slides off the train and gets lost in the crowd.