Day 278 of 366: Blog Challenge 2012

Hello all

You never know what adventures are awaiting you do you? I was thinking about this yesterday when writing The Lure of the Handbag. It reminded me of a chance encounter I’d had on a bus in Sydney.

Geoff and I were returning from the city on the local bus.  We had sat behind this slightly scruffy older lady and she had a large striped bag on the seat beside her. As this is the sort of bag you see homeless people carrying with all their belongings, Geoff and I nudged each other and whispered: “homeless do you think?”

Within a couple of minutes, the lady turned around and spoke to us. Soon she said: I know I look odd with this huge bag but I am not a homeless person and I am worried that people will think I am!”

The striped bag carried by homeless people

Well, you could have knocked us over with a feather … and there was no way she would have heard us either. As the bus wound its way home, the lady told us the sad tale of how she came to be carrying this large bag. For the next hour we heard how a second marriage at 70 after her husband died years before, had been a disaster and now she had ‘run away’ from Melbourne to Sydney to escape him.

Oh, it was awful and Geoff and I felt so sorry for her. She had outstayed her welcome with her son and so she had gathered all her belongings in the big stripe bag and was trying to meet up with someone at a shopping centre.

She poured her heart out to us and wondered if she should go back to him as he “wasn’t a bad man.”

Perhaps she discovered that she valued her freedom more than she realised, and now she felt she was in a pickle and wanted out.

As we said our goodbyes and wished her luck, I felt as if we were deserting her, but there was nothing that WE could do to help. I felt sad that she’d had to confide all her personal details to two strangers on a bus and that she had no one else to listen or to comfort.

Hopefully, the big striped bag would not lead her to her own homelessness as so many others who carry around all their possessions in such bags are led to by circumstances …  like the one this woman was in.

You see, Geoff and I have had many adventures over the years whilst travelling. When Geoff and I travelled alone overseas in 2008, we were not part of a tour group so we talked to people on trains and buses all over London and then Europe as we travelled.

Two such chance encounters have stayed with me: one utterly fascinating in Rome and the other really funny and touching in Spain.

1. On the train from Venice to Rome – April 2008

The train was really crowded and three middle-aged men got on the train and sat across from us. Nothing unusual about that, but we did notice that they were speaking English, unusual when you are in Italy surrounded by Italians!

The fields of Tuscany looked like this from the train

In fact, we were sure one was an Australian like us and so an intense conversation began as the train speed through the fields of Tuscany. Every now and again, I would look out and see beautiful sights but the conversation was so compelling that I almost forgot where I was.

These men were studying for the priesthood in a special seminary for late-vocations in Rome. Two were British but the lone Australian had been widowed and came from Tamworth in New South Wales. What an experience they were having living here in Italy. Oh the tales they told us! And as we are Roman Catholics we were very interested in everything that they had to say.

For two hours we talked and shared and had the most wonderful visit – as if we had been chatting with old friends. After a few hours, Rome came into view and we shook hands and offered to remember them in our prayers as they went back to their College to continue their studies.

I often think of these men and hope they were able to persevere and make it through to the end.

2. On the local bus in Spain  in Peniscola (south of Barcelona)-  May 2008

The Castle on the headland at Peniscola Spain

We were on our way home from seeing the Peniscola Castle. The bus was packed with older Spanish people and they were very friendly to us. They found us a seat and we tried to say thank you in Spanish. Well, the Spanish get so excited at any attempt to speak Spanish and love to help with pronunciation which inevitably is followed by touches of affection on the arm. I wrote in my Journal at the time:

“We got talking (in a manner of speaking) with an older lady on the bus. There was much pointing and making of sounds to try to understand each other.This resulted in great hilarity between her and the other people she was with which soon spread to the whole bus. We went through all the words we knew and everyone was pitching in helping:

Buenos Dias: good Morning;   Buenos tardes: good afternoon;   Buenos noches: good night

Great laughter! We tried to tell her where we were staying but she thought we did not know where to get out (we did) so she left her seat and went up to the bus driver to tell him where we were staying. We had to let her do it as we had no language to explain the situation! She thought she had done us a great favour. There was more affectionate touches on the arm.

We said “Gracias” to her and the whole bus laughed once again. When the bus stopped for us there was lots of “adios” from the senior citizens and then they all clapped as we exited the bus. What a hit we had been!”

And so you have three very different experiences talking to people on trains and buses. But remember folks: you can never tell whose lives you may touch – in just an hour or two – when you meet by chance while travelling on buses and trains …