i spend a lot of my time on public transport, it seems. some days, it’s a chore and i miss having my own wheels. but had that been the case, today, i’d have missed these ‘chance’ encounters with two extraordinary women.
and who’d have thought our lives would be triangulated through excruciating dental pain (inoperable impacted wisdom tooth) and an emergency appointment with my dentist.
i boarded an early bus to the centre of town. the bus, as expected at peak time, was busy. crowded. no seats. i had to stand in the aisle, but i held onto the handrail to my right as the bus rattled and rolled along the road. in the delirium of neuralgia, i caught myself day-dreaming of foxes…
suddenly my reverie is punctured. i felt a hand upon my hand.
i looked down to my right and saw the face of a petite Chinese woman, with long thin black hair, looking up at me, smiling. she smiled, patting the seat next to her, motioning to me to sit down.
“sit!” she said. i saw she had cleared space for me, her tiny lap overloaded. “it’s my manuscript!” she said, laughing, as she peered at me over the top of a stack of 4 large shoe boxes. her accent hinted at NY being a former habitat.
i spoke with her for the remaining ten minutes of our journey to Glenrothes Town Centre. she was very intense. her eyes sparked like flint as she impacted words, impassioned by feminism, her advocacy for freedom for women and her love of writing. yes, all in ten minutes.
i asked her if she’d ever lived in NY. “Brooklyn” she said. “i go back there this summer – my agent sent me here to write third novel”. we spoke of Williamsburg, its residents and the creative scene there – where poets, troubadours, gonzos and painters all collide. but Brooklyn seemed so far away and yet as close to me as she was there and then, in that moment. Glenrothes was a far cry from Brooklyn. but she had me right there. having spent some time in Brooklyn, i was swept right back to a bookstore/coffee house near the Williamsburg Bridge.
“and what brings you to Glenrothes?” i asked of her. curious as ever.
she was returning to Edinburgh, having spent the night at a friend’s to have her look over her final draft. we spoke about writing, writers and feminism. she spoke of her book, her memories of China. “times are a-changing” she said, smiling. she asked if i write. i told her of my three blogs. i wish i had had more time to talk with this incredibly inspirational woman. our arrival at Glenrothes Bus Station, for once in my life, came too soon. we parted company with a hug and her giving me her address in Brooklyn, NY.
“you be sure visit me in Brooklyn now. stay true to your writing. write about love. i know you know that. i can see you know love. write all that!” she said smiling,; hugging me tight, like family.
“HEY!!!” she yelled.
i looked around to see where the voice was coming from.
“HEY! Yes… YOu! Pretty girl with the spectacles!” the voice continued.
this was not a local accent. this was clearly a London accent. i would even hazard a guess of it hailing from South Kensington.
i turned around. i did not expect to see such a colourful vision before me. perhaps my aghast expression betrayed me, but i cautiously walked over to a loud, rude old lady dressed in a rainbow and perched, primly, on a seat behind me by the entrance to the Bus Station.
“Yes, you… help me up, please” she beckoned, in a less aggressive tone, extending a long, thin bony arm to me.
‘bad taste or eccentricity?’ i quizzed myself as i helped the colourful lady to her feet.
“i am 93” she growled. “not as sprightly as one used to be”.
“that’s okay” i said, carefully taking hold of her arm but afraid of snapping it. “take your time. i am in no hurry”
“well, if that’s so, i would like a coffee. would one care to join me?” she asked, clearly ashamed of her earlier brash assault of my attention.
“yeah, why not…!” i replied, gently steering her in the direction of a cheap ‘n’ cheerful diner and negotiating hoards of impatient people.
“you’re very kind” she said, smiling at me.
she was like a circus: colourful, bold, weird yet exciting – if not, a little creepy. but i went with the flow of the encounter. she seemed interesting.
the ninety three years of her existence were etched deeply in her face. her eyes were sunk deep in dark sockets, painted like garage doors in matte peacock blue to match the jaded peacock feathers of her tired out cloche cap. i fixated on her smile. her large mouth was painted a counter-culture shade of pink lipstick, thick and greasy, serving only to make her teeth look more artificial. clearly false, her smile took me by surprise, her teeth were brilliant white. i was taken by surprise, expecting the smile of an old mule. i did not expect to see white of such pure palette. i noticed, as we talked over coffee, that she double-blinked. every time. i put this down to her having had a stroke at some point in her winter years, or the weight of the heavy false lashes she was wearing, in her frailty. but she had my attention. she intrigued me. and she was clearly intrigued by me. she quizzed me; playful as a kitten.
“why did you agree to accompany me for a coffee?” she asked with her chin jutting upwards, long grey stray hairs coiled like springs inside a watch. i countered her question with one of my own: “why did you ask me?”
“touchée!… because you have honest eyes” she laughed, elevating an already surprised expression into one of a garish circus clown. she fidgeted with the grey ringlets framing her face. her cheekbones looked as though they could easily cut through the skin of her collapsed face.
she told me her lifestory. how she was born to a circus. how she ran away with a soldier. how she moved to London and wrote articles for Womens’ magazines during the war.
she told me she had just finished her first erotic novel…
“wow” i said “seventy years of sex! how was it for you?”
“oh… you know…” she said, laughing. really laughing.
she seemed to have mellowed. “i have to go to London now” she said.
i helped her to her feet and held her as we shuffled across the concourse. i helped her board the bus to Edinburgh, where her sister was meeting her and then the two would travel to London on the 3 o clock train.
i have no explanation as to why she was in Glenrothes. of all places.
my encounters with these two women left me with a warmth in my heart. these two women left me both intrigued and inspired. i was strangely fascinated, and perhaps slightly romanced, by their tales. two extraordinary women, two female writers; bi-polar in genre and geography but united in one place. here. in Glenrothes. a chance encounter? an encounter. albeit a brief encounter, but one that has inspired me as a woman, and a writer.
(c) Kat McDonald 2014
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