One of my better friends in Chiang Mai. We talk.
Waking this morning: an Asian chorus of roosters, doves, chanting monks, traffic.
My mind tumbled back thirty years to a bus in Tennessee. Memories are like dreams; the unessential has been filtered out. I was having a happy conversation with an English actress named Maggie Ollerenshaw. She was traveling, visiting friends, “Grist for the mill,” she said. Her face was straightforward, both plain and pretty. She smiled often.
We talked our way into Texas. I described an elevator ride that morning in a Nashville hotel. A forty-ish man smelling of whisky had said to the young operator (amazing to remember that elevators once had operators), “I remember you.”
“Yes,” she said.
“I remember you. When I was bad, very bad—” he shook his head—“you gave me a dollar for my pain!”
“You needed something that day.”
“I thank you. I thank you.”
“The blacks have everything white America needs,” I said to Maggie, “but we lock them out.” We shared an awful bus stop breakfast at which we were very light-hearted, then we parted. She transferred to a bus for California; I continued to Tucson.
Initially both buses followed the same route and, as it happened, stopped at the same rest area several hours later. She was ahead of me in line. We saw each other but did not speak. She took her coffee to her bus.
When I had my coffee in hand I walked to the side of her bus and found her looking out a high window, thoughtful and sad. I got her attention and raised my cup to her, acknowledging the easiness and good feeling that had passed between us. She smiled, relieved, nodding.
A few days later, in Tucson, I took the wrong city bus. It was early evening, not yet dark. I realized that I had no idea where I was. The bus was nearly empty. A Latina, perhaps thirty years old, slim face, dark eyes, was watching me.
“Do you have a pencil I can borrow?” It seemed that it was all she could think of to say.
“I do. I’m lost.”
We rode while she wrote in a notebook and then gave me directions. She offered to show me Tucson, but I was almost out of money and time. Her eyes were intelligent, pleading. She knew something about me or about us that I didn’t. I left regretfully.
On the return trip to Maine, I rode through much of New Mexico sitting next to a middle-aged Native American Indian. He was completely silent, but comfortably so. Several hours later at a town stop, he turned slightly toward me and pointed out the window. A red-faced sheriff with a Stetson hat, overhanging belly, pistol, and an actual badge, was glaring at passengers getting off. The Indian laughed quietly. “Hah, hah, hah.” I laughed, too. That was it—our conversation. When we finally reached his stop, he gave me a glance of approval as he was leaving. I was honored.
The deeper we go, the more alike we are. On those buses, Maggie, the Latina, the Indian, and I were down there together—with loneliness and love, hearing life calling for our best.
I was walking down a small lane, thinking about something, when this came into focus—a complete surprise. Many good books!