Life-changing Strangers

The thousand words. Ah, the thousand words. Your stories are figs and you don’t know which one to eat. Eat your words. Pick a fig and write about it. There is a treasure of a story inside you that you need time and love to tell. You don’t tell many people about her.

I was walking down a street in India, tired and sensitive after staying up night with the boy with the golden eyes. We were talking in the waterfall way we never stopped talking in, when we walked past an old beggar woman sitting on the high pavement. I didn’t stop immediately. It is impossible to stop for everyone, so I wait for the tug. And with her, I feel it. Some force pulling me back.

She was very thin, just bones, with dry, dark brown skin, white hair in a bun, and eyes blue from cataracts. I  bent down towards and handed her 70 rupees. I smiled. She smiled and gripped my hands. Her eyes teared up. I could feel myself getting emotional and the shock made me pull back. I slipped my hands out of hers and walked off, silent and shaken.

We sat at a cafe trying to decide what to do that night. I had just booked a ticket to Bangalore but I was exhausted and sensitive and was doubting my abilities to navigate a new city in my state. I decided to stay in Pondicherry, to stay with the boy with the golden eyes. But I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman. I obsessed about how to help her for the next two hours. The boy with the golden eyes didn’t complain.

Later hat afternoon, I stopped at a street cart and bought a bunch of samosas. She was sitting in the same place. I sat down next to her. When she saw me, she eyes welled up and she reached for me. I gave her the food and some more money. She held my face. We wrapped our arms around each other. She was such a bony thing, a bony ebony old thing, but she was so strong. We kept smiling and nodding, saying, I suppose, thinking about it in hindsight, that we understood each other. The simplest way I can describe it is to say that we loved each other. Even now, writing this, I can feel her love, feel the way we were drawn to each other. There was something there. I had to wrench myself free in the end. It was too much for me. I was selfish. I walked away and I looked back once.

The boy with the golden eyes and I (I mixed up the eye and the i, just like he did with the movie in Sydney two months later) talked about it in bed later. He said, “Certaintly, you’ve had an effect on her, because you’ve given her food and money and love. But she’s given you something more.”

And he was right. I went back to see her again the next day. And it was the same tearful embrace. That time I walked away and I couldn’t look back.


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I drink, I laugh, I smoke, I write.

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