Are there angels who walk in human form? Can one be saved by an off-hand comment?
Sitting in the Bayswater tube station, I look down, examining my shoes. What am I doing here? It was pure folly on my part to think that I'd find myself here in London, when I'd lost myself back in the states. The answers weren't here. I was still alone and feeling lost, except that now I was also truly lost.
How long can a woman sit in a tube station before she's asked to leave? I suppose if I were beautiful or vivacious, young or alluring, it would be a different story than the sad tale that is my life so far. A few friends, miles away, no real direction; and now, in a strange country, lost, alone and invisible. It all welled up and spilt over in a blink.
"I'm sorry, is this seat taken?" a British voice sounds over my head. I can't look up now, I can't show my sadness. I motion to indicate he should take the seat.
A young man, slight and pale, sits down and murmurs, "Thank you."
I stare at my shoes and think how like my life they are: battered and worn, in need of some tender loving care. Pity is almost as attractive as desperation, I remind myself. I can't let myself fall to pieces, I can't succumb to the pity I feel for myself. I sigh, and raise my fingers beneath my glasses. I brush my eyes as if tired, to hide wiping the tears in the ruse of exhaustion.
"Tough day?" the voice next to me asks, and I'm surprised by the tenderness and sympathy in the question. All I can manage to croak out is "Yeah", replacing my glasses and pushing back my hair. As I sit back in the seat, I glance at the embodiment of the sympathetic inquirer.
He's so slight, I have to glance at him twice. And pale, the guy is British pale. A hoodie hides his hair and dark glasses shield his eyes. As he sees me looking at him, a small smile creeps across his face. I can see he's a bit hesitant, but after a moment he says, "Yeah, me too." He turns his gaze back to the empty track.
What have I done to deserve kindness from a stranger? I search myself, and come up with nothing. Maybe misery really does love company.
"Daylight getting the better of you, too?" I manage to spit out, trying with all my might to be, well, just… kind. He seems nice enough, although in his ragged jeans, open rumpled shirt and ill fitting t-shirt, he could be an axe murderer or runaway mental patient. That would be my luck; that has been my luck. I think about the people I left behind, and instinctively my hand moves to cover the cigarette burns on my right arm.
"Um, yeah. Sometimes, it's just… I dunno… you feel like people just want something you don't have to give, know what I mean?"
I nod. Boy, do I know what you mean. I look back at him. This guy's not that old, maybe 25, tops. And yet, from the side, I can see under his glasses he looks tired.
I can hear the train roaring up into the station, and notice for the first time there are lots of people rushing to and from the cars. Some are chatting with others; most are solitary, looking busy, put-out, harried, hurried. It hurts; they're all going somewhere, to someone. There's no one here for me, no rescue, no relief. I hang my head to see just the bags of all shapes, sizes, materials and logos flash by me as representations of happy people.
I can feel the tears welling up as the crowds wash out of the station. I swallow hard and sigh again in relief that the cops haven't asked me to move. I feel a stirring at my side.
The young man – I can see he's young, did I think 25? – leans forward and puts his elbows on his knees, hanging his head down as well. I want to say something to him, just to make him feel better, to let him know he's not alone. As I open my mouth, I realize I can't really say anything. He may be alone, just like I'm alone and will remain alone. What could anyone say to change my solitary status in this mess of a life I've made?
"We really are alone, you know," he says, tucking his glasses in his pocket and pulling out a cigarette. I flinch because I'm so startled by his words that echo my thoughts, and the level, sympathetic tone of his voice. "But you don't have to let it get the best of you."
He can't be talking to me. But I look around, the train's gone, the station's empty, except for me, him and a round woman with her child at the other end of the station.
I'm unprepared for kindness, I'm unprepared for sympathy and I'm especially unprepared for a pale, young man to take any notice of me. I turned to him, my mouth open, hoping furiously that some gem will pop into my head to let him off the hook of talking to me. Nothing.
"I don't want to be rude, I mean, I don't know you," he says, taking a drag on his smoke, "but lots of people go through the world day by day, alone, and they're okay. Do you know why?" I can't speak and he seems to sense this. "Because there are all sorts of really beautiful things in the world, things that will fill your soul and leave you replenished. It may be more difficult at times to find those things, but they are there if you're willing to take the chance, the opportunity to see them."
Okay, who is this guy? I close my mouth, and look back at the track.
"I'm not usually given to talking to strangers. Pictures, yeah, I do that", he chuckles, "but you don't have to be yourself in a picture. People will see what they want to see and what you show them, anyway.
"It's just that I've seen you sitting here all day, looking the picture of how I feel. I hurt for you, which is odd because I'm not really that observant." I can see out of the corner of my eye that he's shaking his head and leaning back against the seat. He stretches his legs out in front of him, zips up his hoodie and shoves his balled hands into the pockets.
"You know…" I start to say and am suddenly besieged by flashes of light, as if I'd been pushed into some sort of strobe light show. I blink and put my hands up in front of my face, completely disoriented. The young man stands up, grabs his backpack and takes long strides toward the exit with his head down. As the crowd moves away from me admist shouts of "Robert! Rob! Over here!", I can finally see it's reporters with cameras that had blinded me and chased off my kind young friend.
It's six months I've been here, and I feel I've finally found myself. It's not the city, not the country, not the people, parties or places. It's me. I'm changed; I'm finally free. Yes, I'm still alone, but it's alright. Seems like my friend was right.
I finally got the nerve to leave the Bayswater tube station and look around. On the same day I was temporary blinded in the station, my eyes were opened to the Turkish Baths at Porchester Centre, just within walking distance. I went in, applied for a job, and was able to get hired on as a cashier. After I'd been there for a few weeks, I worked up the nerve to mention that I had been a masseuse in the states, and was moved into that position.
Tips have been good. It's paid for this tiny flat, which I adore. Not much to clean, and I have the few books I enjoy and a small TV, which I never turn on. It's nice having a luxury that you don't use.
The burns on my arm have faded significantly, and the pain has subsided. It's funny; I no longer need that abuse, I no longer need those scars. My body seems to work to bring my physical state in line with my mental state.
I'll be going back to the states again soon. I read recently that my tormentor was killed in a police pursuit and all I could say was "Good." I wrote my mother, and she's agreed that I could stay with her, if I want to. I'm not sure; I don't think I'm ready to need something again.
Everyday, everyday, I go to the Bayswater tube. I know I won't see him again; I found out who he is, what he meant, and why he felt so bold that day. But that's not the draw. I go there for the beauty of the place. It has it's own life thrumming there underground, a rhythm and movement that is a microcosm of the world above.
Sometimes I see people sitting alone, like I was. Sometimes they're hungry, sometimes they're lost. But I've had my eyes opened now; I see their yearning beyond food and direction.
Their souls scream for recognition – to know that someone sees them, someone knows they're alive. That gift was given to me without expectation of return, freely. Maybe he was soul-sick, too; maybe he was just a nice guy or looking for a diversion from his life. I don't know. All I know is his act gave me kindness when I had none, and, now, I have kindness in my life, enough to give, enough to share.