The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive.”
—Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson
Often times, we have all stood alone in a swarming sea of faces familiar and simultaneously strange — alone, in the aesthetic sense when not one of the many faces pauses to engage us, and we are left only with our own company, a Polar Express of thoughts racing against the tick of the next set of feet nearing to go by oblivious, and an unblinking stare in one of the eight cardinal and sub-directions. There would, at one point, arrive the moment we stood there waiting for, say, in the form of a person— family, a friend, a colleague, or a stranger—who would beckon us to step over the demarcation: an abstract, metaphysical boundary, such as a closed system under observation in thermodynamics from whence our thoughts could not be exchanged unless an external stimulus, that is, the person in question, creates a doorway leading back to the present that lies beyond the realm of the intangible. It might seem outlandish to read such an elaborate discussion on the brief duration in which all of this would have actually taken place, but anybody who has ever dared wander in his or her own company more than just once, would accord in solidarity as to the meaning of precisely what these quiet moments hold.
It once happened some months ago, that as I was walking to my institution alongside my brother that one of those many unfamiliar faces somehow became familiar, for however brief a span of time it might have been. We had disembarked our father’s car dropping us off as we neared the school, for there was a long queue of all sorts of vehicles waiting to gain access to wherever it was they were heading. We had got out and jumping over a low railing separating the pedestrian path from the one taken by the motorized-beings— a jump which my brother enjoyed too much—we had walked down the lane a little, when, a middle-aged man on a two-wheeler getting his daughter(easily recognizable in the school uniform) to cross over the pedestrian side like we had, for we would all have been delayed very much by virtue of the traffic jam and never made it out in time. He was dropping her off to school when, apparently, he must have gotten stuck in that crawling line waiting in anticipation and I sensed, was faced with the dilemma of either walking his little daughter to school and leaving behind his transportation, or risk getting her late—in which case all the effort would have been in vain. Though again, I sensed his relief which must have gotten hold of him when, upon spotting me and my brother walking their way, for he stopped us to ask politely if we would let the little girl tag along with us.
I did not have to say anything; I helped him slip the little girl’s tiny school bag over her tiny shoulders, and putting a secure arm around her but at a courteous distance, we resumed walking with my brother strolling behind us. During our short journey, she walked silently beside me, with her wary eyes firmly focused on the road beneath her little feet with which she traversed its length. I kept my pace slow, smiling silently to myself all the while at her polite introversion and obedience — a companionship of traits such a rarity in even many grownups of these days. With myself never being good with strangers (even if the stranger happened to be the sweet, little girl that I met that day), I sympathized with her discomfort in my head; retrieving and putting again alternately my right arm around her, feeling the strong urge to protect the fragile, innocent child while she walked beside me, but I dared not say anything to her for fear of making her more uncomfortable than I knew — from experience all too well —she already might have been. Soon we reached our common destination, and I, asking her if she could get to her classroom alright to which she quietly nodded in response, parted ways with her to head to my own, just in time for the bell to go off.
I do not remember what I did that day during my classes, or of what I did afterwards; I might have recounted the tale to my friend as I am to you recounting thus to you now, however, I do remember thinking, and inadvertently smiling at the memory every time ( as I am now, yet again) that that was an encounter that I would not forget, even as the memory of her face fades away with time in my mind.
image source: Marianne Taylor Photography
She held something of that innocent purity that we all marvel at; she is that unnamed memory that one might not recall the reason as to how one might have acquired it, or when, or how it did, but do in fact remember the feeling it inspired in us then. And that is how when someday unconsciously it resurfaces to the forefront of our mind, we find our mouth pulling up at the corners of its own accord— perhaps, the object of a few questioning stares from that same swarming sea of nameless faces humming with aliveness in its active rhythm, its waters colliding against the shores of your knowing thoughts.
A memory we arrive at in serendipity, but never leave.
How unthoughtful of me, I did not even have the courage to ask my memory her name.