Ships passing in the Night

©2013 Nim Gholkar All rights reserved There are some things I can never remember. Birthdays. Phone Numbers. Half-baked promises. Dental appointments.

There are some things I will never forget: books that made me laugh; friends who made time for me without first checking their calendar; kind acts by complete strangers.

A couple of Sundays ago, I had the strangest conversation with…well….a stranger! It lasted less than twenty minutes, but will be embedded in my memory forever. One of those things I will never forget.

It was a lazy weekend. A sudden, unexpected downpour of rain had left a sweet, lingering freshness in the air. I sat scribbling in my notebook, working out ideas for short stories. None of the ideas appealed. Annoyed and frustrated, I scratched out entire paragraphs and threw crumpled balls of paper onto the floor (to be dutifully delivered to the recycling bin a few minutes later). Now what? The kids and husband were watching a movie. Should I join them? Nah. It wasn’t my kind of movie. Should I read? Nah. I had finished reading all the library books. And I would not read the newspaper even if someone paid me to do so (I get all my news updates listening to the morning radio on way to work). I decided to go do some ‘literary shopping’. I’m not sure if such a concept exists, but I can’t think of a better term. It means shopping for writer tools: a nice new notebook to write my story outlines, some index cards to map out different chapters, a folder for all the bits and pieces of paper on which I scribble whenever I get a nice idea etc etc. Off to the stationery store!

Within moments of entering the shop, I had filled the basket with half a dozen things. A crazy shaped pen, an even crazier looking eraser, some glue sticks, a notebook with multi-coloured pages. There was one thing I couldn’t find. Index cards. I looked around for assistance and saw a woman in her mid 30s stacking the shelves.

“Excuse me”, I said. She turned around and frowned. Not in a good mood. Silence. “Umm…I’m wondering if you could help me. Where can I find index cards?” A huge sigh, almost as though I had asked for directions to the moon. “Follow me” she murmured and began walking rapidly towards the furthest corner of the store. I half ran, half walked, the basket knocking against my knee as I struggled to keep pace with her determined stride. “Here…there’s different sizes” and she pointed to a shelf filled with an amazing range of index cards. I was delighted. Exactly what I was looking for.

Curiosity triumphed over sullenness and she watched me as I compared the smaller cards with the larger ones. “What will you use them for?” she asked suddenly and I jumped,having forgotten she was still there. “Oh…to write my stories” Her face brightened and before my eyes, she transformed into a different person. Friendly. Smiling. Interested. “Are you a writer?” she asked. “Well, I write…yes” “What do you write about?” “Lots of things. But at present, my Muse has vanished. I’m looking for a new story”. Those were the last words I spoke for the next twenty minutes. She spoke without pause. “Well, you need to speak to someone who has led an interesting life. That’s where you will find your next story. Take my story, for example……”

As I leaned against the shelf and waited, she poured her heart out and narrated an entire life story. She spoke passionately about a complicated marriage after a whirlwind romance. About how things went wrong, and how she set out on a long journey to discover her true self. At the end of the twenty minutes, she finally paused and smiled at me, a little sadly. “I hope you write my story some day. It might even become a bestseller”

It was one of those rare occasions when I didn’t know what to say. “Thank you for sharing your story”, I said finally. “You are one brave lady” She smiled…patted my shoulder. “Not brave, my dear. Not brave at all” and vanished before I could say another word.

A classic case of ships passing in the night. And yet I doubt I will ever forget her.

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