Everything passes. It has to. That's the beauty and tragedy of it.
The bus rolled in sharp at five as usual and I got on, eager to get out of the chill. As I paid my fare and took my seat across from hers, she smiled. Her eyes crinkled up and I saw that she was missing two of her front teeth. It was an openhearted smile, and I found myself returning it self-consciously.
I realized she was saying something. Her lips moved but I didn’t catch her words. I got my ear-phones off and said “I’m sorry. I didn’t get that.”
“Long time, no see..!” she said, her gap-toothed smile lit up her eyes as if in recognition.
I was surprised. She was an absolute stranger to me. Here was an old, white woman, perhaps in her late sixties or early seventies, or older – I don’t know, I’m bad with guessing peoples ages. But she seemed to know me. I racked my brain to recall who she was. I’m normally good with names and faces. She reminded me of my own grandmother, but apart from that I was drawing a blank.
Perhaps she was mistaking me for someone else. Someone she knew or thought she remembered. It must be one of those “racial cross-effect” things where people tend to think people from another ethnic race all look alike, with features indistinguishable from one another. That must be it, I thought. Perhaps she knew another Indian woman and thought I was her.
Or maybe I just have one of those faces. In the past, I’ve had people come up to me and say, “Mmm….you know, there’s this person I know who looks just like you…” I’d roll my eyes inwardly, but it’s been known to happen and I’m not ruling that out.
Or maybe she was just old, and memory can be a pain sometimes. So you never know, really.
“How are you?” I asked politely, not wanting to make it awkward. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she might be wrong. That I’m not the person she assumed me to be. And it would be a short ride anyway – I would be getting off at my stop soon. It’s hardly more than a couple stops from my work to home, not too long to hold a full conversation with anyone. Just a few pleasantries, and I’d be on my way.
So I played along. I mean how difficult can it be to smile and make small talk with a friendly old lady in a bus. You just have to listen and let them talk, right?
Wrong. Because she continued talking, without missing a beat.
“Oh I had a crazy day,” she said. “You won’t believe who I ran into this morning!”
I raised my eyebrows quizzically, not trusting myself to say anything.
“You know him!” she said.
“Who?” I asked, curiosity getting the better of me.
“The cookie man!” She exclaimed, laughter gushing from the gaps as she threw back her head. “You remember the cookie man, don’t you?”
I didn’t..! I don’t..! I wanted to clarify that I wasn’t who she thought I was. But maybe it was too late now. I smiled politely, sneaking a look at the bus’s neon board up top to see if it displayed my stop yet. Nope. The driver had just taken a turn off Odana and Gammon and there was still some time. Not to mention, a bit of traffic as well.
“Uh huh” I replied noncommittally as I prepared myself for a strange chat, all the while feeling like I was impersonating someone. I know quite a few people who make up stories and scenarios all the time and find their fun in that sort of thing. But here I was, feeling out of my element, and somewhat stuck.
She went on, unperturbed. “Oh you know him. He was on the bus the other day as well. He had his cookies and he was saying, “No, you can’t have it all!” and I said “But its cookies! Who doesn’t love cookies? I said to him…”
She was speaking animatedly, her hands gesticulating, her eyes watering up as she laughed, “…but I took them anyway, you know how I’m crazy about cookies. Especially the big squishy ones with choco-chips…I know he didn’t really mind. He’s a real sweetheart…”
I smiled. She was a sweet old lady. Reliving a memory, wanting to share it with someone. Perhaps an acquaintance, perhaps a stranger. What did it matter? She seemed happy and was obviously enjoying herself.
My stop finally arrived. As I pulled at the yellow cord to signal a stop request and stood up, she reached out. I took her outstretched hand unconsciously.
“Stay warm, dear. And give my love to the little one,” she said.
I nodded. “Have a good day”, I said and got off the bus. I didn’t have any little ones.
As I walked the rest of the way home, my mind remained on the strangely unsettling encounter. I remembered my own grandmother, and how she is just this chatty with friends and strangers alike. Full of stories. Maybe it’s an age thing, maybe it’s a personality thing. Maybe it’s nothing and everything. But the universe was full of parallels.
You never know how your day will turn out. Who you will meet and how a chance encounter could impact you. The cookie crumbs of moments that don’t seem important as such, but somehow make up life as a whole.
Well, whoever she was or whoever she assumed I was to her, I hope she is happy and warm and safe at home, enjoying her squishy choco-chip cookies.