When I was a teenager, I would have to walk to the train station. There I’d wait to catch the train across five suburbs, then to walk about a kilometre to school. All up the eight kilometre trip from home was laden with a bag of books, lunch and other things you think are necessities. Funny how much junk they make you think you need to live a day as a student.
All of that didn’t matter to me though, because there in the icy mist of mornings, the sun would fight through rusted beams holding the station platform above us and there at seven thirty, I’d go to the same spot and wait, not only for the train but for a girl.
She had the darkest eyes that were the perfect shade of I don’t care, and her smile…. What a secret she kept! She wore braces so she hid them, barely exposing her smile. Somewhat scowling at the world, her creases vanished though as her long black hair would blow over and she’d walk into my vision. Her hair too long to be manageable by herself, someone definitely would comb it for her daily, well past her behind, long like the uniform skirts she wore at a time when girls were folding their minis at the waist as soon as they stepped out of home.
Fresh bread baked across the railway tracks in a Vietnamese bakery lane way shop, the smell of train brakes applied too hard, ever lingering amongst tracks and the suburban foliage fought for territorial rights amongst the scents every morning. Same battle, they had amnesia of the previous day’s outcome, that none of them ever won or lost, each had their rightful place and all were welcome by the morning commuters, especially myself and Ursula, but I only learned her name two years later.
She’d stand meters away from me, almost a dare for me to engage. You don’t dare an introvert if you like winning, you’d lose every time, they don’t engage.
Still, she’d do it, and me to her, stealing glances laced with smiles, sometimes engaging in staring competitions, pretending we were only looking over each others shoulders and not at each other, faking a re-focus and jolting our heads to vision, past each other’s eyes. We were both aware of the mental games, but blush on we did.
It was an unwritten agreement. Usually we’d get on the train and wait in the carriage stand up area, still stealing glance to glance. Occasionally it would change to one of us walking up or down to the seating areas, the other would follow and the glances would continue from a distance until each of us went our separate ways to our schools.
This continued for a year, perhaps two.
We never spoke on that train platform or on the train.
Then she wasn’t there any more.
But I’d still look forward to those mornings even though they weren’t the same. Rust and Iron, rocks and brake smell, bread and tree scents, the memories were all there. That’s all I needed.
Sometime later, I found her again. She was working at the local supermarket at the registers. That’s how I learned her name, from her name badge, still way too introverted to ask her, or to even say hi. She had developed though, she said,
“Hello, how are you?”
I didn’t know how to answer. Was she asking asking, or was she working? If she was working, I’d answer, if she was asking, I wouldn’t. Gutless, I couldn’t muster up the courage. This inner world has been my life for a long time. I decided to strike the safe deal and convinced myself it was for work that she was asking, part of customer service, so I replied,
“I’m well thanks”.
Sensing distance and insincerity in my tone, her smile turned into the scowl she wore on the train platform as she waltzed into view every morning and like a glacier, she turned to her register, bagged my items and it was if I was the Titanic, struck by her and that sinking feeling just overwhelmed me.
Tail between my legs, I walked out.
I returned back to the store several times over the next few months, but she would only glance once, polite acknowledgement and continue with her work, never a word spoken still.
Then she disappeared.
Many years later I was in a video store, before DVD’s were ever created.
As the smell of bagged stale popcorn and damp carpet overwhelmed my senses whilst searching for a flick to occupy my mind that day, a familiar sight appeared in front of me.
I had spent that much time immersed in observing her years ago that even with her back turned, she was unmistakable. It was Ursula.
In the pit of me, I begged God for her to turn around and confirm my gut feelings, ‘Turn around woman and don’t make my eyes liars’, and as if someone had tapped her on the shoulder she turned.
Two years or so studying her every feature, it was hard to mistake her, even though she had matured into a graceful woman.
My heart jumped out of me, like someone had pulled the Titanic out of the ocean floor.
She saw me and blushed the same blush she did when she was so much younger.
She grabbed an earlobe, rubbing her earing and smiled the same big smile she always did. The one that made her lips fuller because of the braces she once wore, now just perfect white teeth behind the same full lips.
I smiled back, but I looked down. I looked down because she was with her partner or husband. I’ve never been so brazen to step on another human beings rights. She was no longer my right and in that instant transformed into a beautiful memory.
But I smiled, and she smiled and it was all that I needed. We smiled because we resumed an affair even if it was but for a moment and it was more than enough.
Sometimes we can’t have the things we want so badly. But the love that can come from them can last for eternity, probably because it existed before you met anyway.
We have to learn how to love in separation, never discontent, never in despair from something beautiful we experience that we may never be able to have again.
Just because we are vulnerable once even if utterly shattered in that state, it does not mean we should develop barriers, put up walls, cage our hearts never to receive love again.
I put up walls to prevent people into my world because I pick and choose who I want, writing is a wall I have chosen to remove altogether to expose some of my vulnerabilities but I never look back and hate a person I loved once, no matter what. That is utter dishonesty, for what was I doing in their heart and they in mine in the first place if there wasn’t even remotely something attracting us to one another.
Find love in smiles, in scents, moments and in memories, it’s far more than the lust of flesh that love is. Find it in a look, a glance of acknowledgement, a glance of understanding, anything that settles your hearts affair but when you find it, take a snapshot and frame that with the most exquisite frame you can find to preserve the memory and not ever lose sight of how to love.
Like resuming a playground game you shared as an infant with a friend, let it pull you by the pinkie to where you need to be, don’t turn it into a closed fist of destruction.
It’s not ever that, ever.
I don’t love Ursula like I love my wife, it’s a different type of love. I haven’t shared moments with her as intimate, as lasting, as puncturing as I have with my wife, my children and family.
Be open to love and it will find you in a set of braces as a teen or the classic scent of a woman who’s body may change but pheromones remain the same.
It may be in your child’s eyes, it may be in a strangers gesture of good will.
It may even be in the hands of a baker on an icy morning, with the scent of train brakes, rusted iron and trees competing for your love. Receive them all whatever which way it comes.