A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
She sat down on the bench near me as I spoke to my father on the phone, not saying a word. She didn’t look at me directly nor did she seem to affix her gaze in any other direction. That I was her intended connection was apparent. I continued the conversation, figuring that whatever it was could wait. I was curious as to why this woman had approached me, but she didn’t take precedence.
After another 15 minutes on the phone, I started the words of wrapping up. This would be her cue to prepare her speech, asking me for money or a cigarette or whatever else was her intent. Instead she gave up and walked slowly in the direction of my hostel. Off the phone, I followed to see her duck into the entry of a bar. I stopped outside and rolled a cigarette hoping that the bought time would gain me audience with this walking conundrum. I wasn’t disappointed.
She came back out and approached me. Her pace, her gait, her strides – everything about the way she moved gave no impression whatsoever. Not too fast, not deliberate, not meandering, unknown intent. She wore glasses over her eyes, one of which was frosted over into a milky-blue haze that obscured any pupil. The other eye opened slightly less but was otherwise normal. Whether she was partially blind was indeterminable from her actions. She wore sunglasses on her head, pushing back her auburn hair out of her face. In the back it hung down to mid-neck and had the slightly uneven lines to indicate that it was self-styled. The color itself could have been natural or fake.
She gave me a slight but hasty nod, the kind you’d give if you were starting a meeting in a back alley with someone you feared to be holding a knife. Her body language screamed simultaneously that she needed human connection and that she was terrified to be there. Her words, when they came, were almost whispered, barely audible and barely intelligible. When I asked her to clarify, saying I was half-deaf, she didn’t, just closing her eyes slowly, tilting her head slightly forward and giving the hair-swaying head shake that says – meekly – “no.” I looked at her with anticipation every time she moved her lips. I desperately needed to understand her, to figure out what she was seeking and where she had come from. More often than not, her lips moving apart was only for a brief gap for her to slightly wet her lower lip, adjust her gaunt cheeks, and try to find a state that was comfortable or at least not noticeable. It was as if someone had just told her to think about her tongue and now she couldn’t find the right place to put it.
We sat on a new bench together, I with my cigarette and she with her balled up shirt. As I took a slow drag, her clothing answered nothing either. She wore a black stretch-leather club shirt under a loose out-of-fashion tee under an old army bomber jacket for ladies. The pockets contained napkins, a crumpled up 7-11 cup, a straw, a lighter, and assorted other items. She held a balled up black shirt in her hands that she occasionally smelled deeply. Her pants matched the bomber jacket – olive with copious pockets. Her shoes matched the club shirt, faded shiny black flats with little bows over the middle toe. The tops of the shoes ended to reveal feet caked in dust and dirt.
“I feel that the universe is going to end.”
“Well that isn’t good. Is it intuition or do you know something?”
“Everything is terrible. There’s …” and she trailed off into indecipherable language.
She looked around through sad eyes. I kept trying to figure it all out. Was she on something? If so, what? Was she crazy? Was she only slightly beyond me towards gone, dehydrated from a long day, dirty and disoriented from a lack of food, upset over a fresh trauma and speaking more in confusing metaphor? I tried to initiate conversation a couple more times but it was not much use.
A truck drove over a plastic container and the resulting sound was a gunshot. She leapt from her seat, unready to face the end, terrified that it might actually come tonight and she wouldn’t be able to fight it. This was a woman my age with too many years left to give up now.
She sat back down, uneasy. We shared the minutes in silence, feeling the companionship of being near each other but both still so alone and desperate to connect.
“What was that out there?” she asked on edge as she proceeded to get up and walk back into the lobby of the club.