During a recent trip to the UK, the wife, son and I took a day trip to Sterling Scotland, from Edinburgh to see Sterling castle.
While waiting for a bus to said castle at the bus depot across from the train station, we meandered around…sat…stood, people-watched and waited.
At one point in our long wait for the bus that never came, I began noticing a woman going from person to person chatting, then leaving quickly to go to another. I watched her with great interest.
She was a slim, blond woman in a shabby but clean house dress and carrying a plastic bag full of purchases she had made. What caught my eye was how no one would talk to her for long, and how she would just wander up to the next person and appear to engage them in conversation.
As the crowd changed with the arriving and departing buses, this woman would wander unobtrusively around the station with a welcoming smile on her face for all to see. And shun.
From where I observed her, it appeared as though she was “one of those” people that cross all our paths at one time or another. Those with lower mental capabilities than ourselves. One which most would prefer not to be bothered with. I understand that feeling. Talking to people like that, even for a moment, can be much like walking into quicksand…there is a possibility of no way out.
But I had some time. And she was so magnetic to me in her reserved exuberance, even from a distance. I sat down next to her on one of the benches as she had just exhausted any possible conversations from the last batch of passengers.
As I have said, until now I had only observed her from afar, but when she turned to me to start a conversation, as I knew she would, I looked into her eyes.
Her whole life was there.
Yes, she was what would be considered to be mentally “dull”. She had a speech impediment(one that was seemingly caused by bad hearing, as she watched people’s mouths intently as she listened), and unkempt hair….but, those eyes.
Their beauty and innocence were matched only by her obvious love of life.
As we began chatting…well, I say “chatting” as if it was an easy conversation, but it was more like a translator’s nightmare. Between her speech problems, a highland “Glasgow” accent, my American accent and our worlds-apart lives, it was a bit of a struggle to communicate at all. But we both wanted to, and we did.
She was immediately filled with questions. “Where are you from?”, “are you on holiday?”, “is that your wife and son?”, “how old is he?”
Our conversation went on for the better part of a half-hour.
I learned that her name was Mary…a name she didn’t like. She lived with her sister and had never been out of Glasgow before this, her trip to Sterling. She was 36 years old. No, she hadn’t seen the castle, she had done some shopping…and it went on.
She had a child’s curiosity, but as we talked, I didn’t mind answering her questions, if I could just continue to look into those eyes. It seemed her whole world and all she had endured, was there. Of course she had a difficult time in life…that was obvious. But her spirit was not dampened. And she was out today on her own…and not bothering anyone(it was obvious that someone, perhaps her sister, had told her not to press people too hard to talk to her…and she tried not to).
As I was engaged in our little talk, my son called to me and said they had decided to take a cab, so I turned to say goodbye to Mary and she had vanished into the crowd. When we were walking by the last bus, I noticed her getting on it. I waved to her as she climbed into her bus back home, but she didn’t notice.
I hope she got home alright. By herself.
Of all the memories that I brought home from our vacation, Mary sticks in my mind. I can’t stop seeing her laughing eyes and how they could affirm all that is human and good.