the lady in the purple cloak

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the sky was clear and blue. the sun shone down with disarming intent. people were smiling. even the sea seemed buoyant and happy, sparkling with joy! it felt like spring. church bells rang out with hope. it was the perfect lazy Sunday morning.

i set out, wearing blue fur and a broad smile, to visit my mother in Glenrothes.

sunday buses operate on a skeletal service. with that in mind, i set out in good time with a spring air in my stride and spring air in my lungs. it was a beautiful day…

i stood, in the sun, and waited.

and waited.

and

waited…

the bus was lazy this sunday too, it seemed.

out of nowhere, i was joined at the bus stop by a lady wearing pink hair, clipped and pinned, and a purple cloak. she stands beside me, tapping her ivory-topped walking stick anxiously. i say hello.

she tells me she is 85 years young and recovering from a stroke she suffered last June. she tells me her speech and her mobility has been somewhat impaired and that she finds it incredibly frustrating. i recognise her perfume… Samsara by Guerlain.

the bus arrives and she asks if i will be her ‘companion’. she has a concession pass, and invites me to be her ‘+1’. i smile, and thank her.

“no… thank YOU!” she says, as she motions for me to sit next to her.

i tell her i like her perfume and that it reminds me of Sri Lanka. i tell her that i bought that fragrance there to remind me of how the air smelled in Sri Lanka – sweet, sensual and heady.

it is then she begins to tell me her story…

she tells me that she too has visited Sri Lanka, in the 1960s. she tells me that she travelled to Peru when she was 82 and how she explored the Machu Picchu. and how she loves to travel alone.

she has travelled around the world five times, even to Antarctica. my mind is blown. what an fascinating woman – such spirit of adventure.

she spoke of how depressing it is now, being imprisoned in ‘this failing body’. my heart grew heavy for her. she told me she is no longer permitted to travel by air but that she hopes to continue her travels by land or sea. she tells me she will not let this ‘blip on the horizon’ spoil her plans. she plans to travel, by train, from Paris to Moscow this autumn. she tells me she is determined to make a good recovery.

i tell her that i admire her courage, and determination… her wanderlust, and her strength to go it alone, and that she is a real inspiration. i tell her she makes my feet itch. we laugh.

but her eyes soon fill with tears.

“you remind me of my Katherine” she says, taking an embroidered hankerchief from her handbag and dabbing her tearstained cheeks.

she tells me her daughter died, prematurely, at the age of 27 by the cruel, ruthless hand of breast cancer. she tells me that she and her daughter used to travel, extensively. a trip from Paris to Moscow, by train, was the last journey they made together – five weeks later, her daughter passed away.

i feel my eyes well up with tears, and blink furiously to contain them.

she clutches my hand.

“oh you even look like my Katherine!” she says. i tell her that my name is Kathryn.

i place my hand over hers and squeeze it, gently. she squeezes back, hard.

it is then i look out the window and see that the sky, too, is weeping.

“thank you” she says “for listening…”

choking back tears, i just smile.

outside, the rain grew heavier and heavier. a torrent.

she tells me that every three years, since her daughter’s passing, she has made the pilgrimage from Paris to Moscow in her memory. she tells me how both she and her daughter loved Paris, and Moscow, and travelling in luxury by train.

for a moment, i am whisked off around the globe. yet the bus journey was a mere forty minutes.

in this forty minutes, in my mind’s eye, i have travelled the world over – yet i have only travelled eight miles.

eight miles in forty minutes. i had circumnavigated the world in forty minutes. i had lived eighty-five years. and i had travelled for free.

i had been gifted with inspiration, wisdom and grace. i had grown.

in a previous blog, i had questioned public transport: its worth, and pontificated on whether or not it is a privilege.

today, i felt thankful for public transport. today, i met a remarkable lady. without the services of public transport, i would never have met this incredible woman.

i would not have had this journey.

and what a truly remarkable journey it was.

(c) Kat McDonald 2015

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