Believe me, Good Magic does want to happen. It only needs the right sort of heart, a pure heart, for a match to be struck, a cosmic spark to ignite, and in exceptional cases a warm and enduring friendship vivaciously simmers and prances out of that mixture as if it were the beginning of everything. Not hardship, nor burden, the storybook of our lives is revised accordingly as it becomes an ounce weightier, basking in the glory of a new chapter, personified as so in the face of the friend whose world is waiting to be known by us.
Last year, I went to board a train from Birmingham to Winchester, a particularly long slog made all the more dreary because it turned up on the platform nearly an hour late in which time I was being mercilessly whipped about by icy rain and howling winds, my cheeks and ears transmogrifying their colour a shade closer to a recently-picked radish!
It was a fated journey. I met a stranger on a train, however it was destined not to end there, the story resisted being anything but a fleeting and forgetful wisp. Lata ji was an elderly lady of Asian descent who was sat all by herself by the rain-drenched window, her frail hands nervously crossed and clamped down on her handbag, and her tied-up bun flashing streaks of grey and silver that reminded me of my own Amma. Before I had even opened my mouth to ask her permission to take the seat next to her I already knew deep in my gut that by the time I stepped back onto the familiar Winchester platform neither of us would remain quite the same as when we had first boarded the train.
In this complicated age where the masses are daily letting themselves be hypnotised by the flickering and flicking of images on screens that fit neatly in the palm of their hands, channelling all attention to voraciously scooping up as much information as possible on the lives of other people and their movements, all I wanted to do was to sit and read. It was not to be so. Every force imaginable held me back from finding what I wanted. I struggled to reach for my novel in my bag that was unashamedly squashed by plastic containers of food and presents given to me by my affectionate relatives, and after wriggling and poking my fingers as far deep as I could possibly go, I gave up. I was making an enormous racket, fidgeting in my seat, and carelessly letting my elbow trespass over my seat so that it brushed against the lady next to me. How embarrassing was that?!
And that was when the match was struck! One knock of my elbow tapping on the elbow of the lady next to me, and there it was, a reason sprung in my heart to speak, to reach out to her, I had to, and in hindsight, I am tempted to say that perhaps I did not want to find my book after all. She was too much like my own Amma and I could not let her sit on a tediously dull and long train journey without some company.
She had no smarty pants phone. Neither did I. Already we were on the same platform! While the entire carriage of people were busily glued to their devices, only once breaking off from its spell to return to the outside world when the ticket master floated by, Lataji and I began our banter with that classic and universal British icebreaker, the subject of weather! A miserable grey, wet day, that gave the impression that train windows could weep buckets of tears too, the both of us fiercely condemned its gloomy antics and agreed that warmer and sunnier climes could not come any sooner! We told each other of our families, and since I had my camera I swelled up with excitement at the prospect of bringing my descriptions and anecdotes alive with the pictures I had taken. I frantically dug out my camera to show her all my relatives from Birmingham. I do not think she saw, or was conscious of, how I discreetly watched her eyes light up with the fire of new knowledge as I rolled through the digital reel of my camera. I do believe it was the first time that I had the pleasure of observing directly what wonderment my visual narrative world had on a reader. It was infinitely more rewarding than a million Facebook ‘Likes’. Exuberantly terrific and uplifting, I was inside a magical circumstance that ought to have been honoured, but I did not know how, so I walked deeper into the present, living and loving every moment of the conversation that I shared with this adorable old lady.
Our voices weaved through many subjects that ranged from our hobbies, jobs, famous books and their authors, the maritime history of the south of England, ancient tapestries and the romantic moors of Yorkshire. You see, she came from the north, I from the south, and yet our harmonious conversation was as if we had resumed it from where we left off many years ago. Beautiful evidence that geographic distance was a powerful illusion, we were talking away as if we came from a mapless world altogether.
I like remembering how we laughed together on that journey, we did not have to think about how to do that, they came naturally and freely, at times our chuckles made a big show of just how authentic they were as I became helpless and shed a tear or two of joy, disintegrating my eyeliner with triumph! We had been friends for a long time, in spirit, and it took this one journey on a train to finally satisfy the conventional sensory diet of our everyday eyes.
As I was nearing to Winchester we both knew well what we would ask of each other. I looked at her tiny phone, she looked at mine, and we decidedly grabbed for a pen and paper and exchanged addresses and numbers. I promised that I would write her letters and explained to her that I had a great many pen-pals around the world. At first she was surprised that someone of my more youthful generation still dabbled in epistolary modes of communication. I replied that I was born in the wrong time, and she laughed and patted me on the arm, although I suspect very much that she always knew that. She had decided, somewhere along in the journey, that I was too much of a lovable eccentric, the girl who defiantly chose to walk apart from the crowd, and that is why it was not that difficult for her to see why I still stocked letter-writing stationary on my desk and kept a diligent eye out for the post.
After a farewell tied in warm hugs and good wishes, as authentic as Amma’s, I jumped off the train and onto Winchester platform, waving fondly at Lata ji as her train pulled out of the station and made its way to Southampton. She was visiting a friend. A few days later I gave myself the chance to show Lataji that I was a woman of her word. I kept my promise and wrote her a letter, and at Christmas time she sent one back to me. You can read that story and sample her heartfelt letter in my WordPress blog ‘On The Matter Of A Red Letter Day Because Two Strangers On A Train Became Friends!’
Though I am busy these days engaged in preparatory research work for my postgraduate degree for September, as well as, making the most of the summer holidays by trotting off on mini adventures with my mates, I returned home today and before I dumped my bags on the dining room chair I momentarily forgot how to breathe. I had spotted the tell-tale, bright red envelope glowing like a supergiant star from the far end of the table. I tussled with myself about what to do first. Should I freshen up or read the letter? I opted for a compromise. I drank a cup of water and then I sat down and carefully peeled open the rectangular piece of papery ruby.
I shed tear after tear after tear of joy. My dearest Lata ji had sent me an Eid card. Its cover, in delicate and economical strokes, depicted an orange sun peering from between the fronds of sloping palm trees, below two shores flanked still waters while a girl braved a bridge, a yoke across her shoulder, and on each a wide basket of goods hung down. It magnificently summarised the essence of Arundhati’s spirit and the burden of the unknown that she must face on this journey. The beautiful letter that accompanied the card did little to deviate from the theme. Lata ji asks me of the varied challenges of my own life and she makes it clear that she is of the faith that I have the power to overcome them. To this day Lata ji has no access to my WordPress world and therefore she has no clue of what I have been up to of late. In light of that fact, I am awestruck, I am a miniature thunder of applause, I am breathlessly ecstatic and I am more things to which I cannot frame the words to because the computer will go positively bonkers if I keep doing that, but, I am truly satiated to the roof with invincible proof that the truest of friendships are a population of skilled mind readers.
I have yet to write to Lata ji to let her know that I had applied and have been accepted to study a postgraduate degree in Writing for Children, and that when September rolls in the storybook of my life is about to get happily weightier. Should I tell her or should I let her read my mind?
I think I will buy more First Class stamps tomorrow… ♥♥♥
“… I returned home today and before I dumped my bags on the dining room chair I momentarily forgot how to breathe. I had spotted the tell-tale, bright red envelope glowing like a supergiant star from the far end of the table…”
“… It magnificently summarised the essence of Arundhati’s spirit and the burden of the unknown that she must face on this journey…”
“… I am truly satiated to the roof with invincible proof that the truest of friendships are a population of skilled mind readers…“
“… I shed tear after tear after tear of joy...”
Photography & Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | My Home | Winchester | UK 2016