How many times have you sat next to an elderly woman and before your journey’s end she has extracted your life story? When Yvette Thompson boarded the bus on her Intrepid India trip, little did she expect to meet a lovely local lady who would insist on planning her future…
“We galloped along at an impressive rate, the constant shrill of the horn warning pedestrians en route to get off the track, or beware the consequences. Our bus was packed tight with people: mostly local commuters, plus our dozen of mixed-bag nationalities. As it swerved around the corners our group all held on, white knuckled, constantly jiggling up and down and banging into the persons next to us (there were at least 3 to a seat). Perspiration trickled down the nape of our necks and glued the back of our knees to the vinyl seats.
We were attracting the gazes of some of the locals. I couldn’t help but to steal stares back. How did they do it? Not a pearl of perspiration. No jiggling. No accidental bumps. But rather, as they stood down the middle of the bus, they seemed to all move together in one delicate motion, like a school of dancing fish. They didn’t grip the rails for support, but lightly touched them, as if their fingertips were entirely responsible for their balance.
The women were beautiful. Even those from these remote, impoverished villages were adorned in the most spectacular of colours. Their saris draped, modestly covering them, whilst exposing just a hint of flesh around their upper torso. Their made-up eyes averted my glances, but as I lowered my eyes so as to not stare, I could feel numerous pairs of large eyes fall back upon me.
The men were not clothed so proudly. They were dressed all in white, or rather white with shades of dirt and dust. Their white turbans had collected some of the particles that filled even the stillest of the air. Many were not so curious in us foreigners, or if they were, they did a good job of not showing it.
The bus stopped suddenly and jerked to a standstill. Locals glided down the aisle and offloaded. The bus was now less crowded, but there was still enough people to ensure that there was at least 3 to a seat. I now sat between a boy of around 6 years, and an older woman of whose age I could only guess to be around 60.
The woman turned to me and smiled, the wrinkles in her face becoming deep crevices.
“What is your name?”
I introduced myself.
“And how many years do you have?”
“30″ I told her.
She took my left hand in both of hers.
“You are not married?” Her eyes showed the concern that her kind voice was hiding. I now realised that a lot of people, both women and men, were now listening to this interview.
“Ah, no. I am not married.”
“You need to be married. Perhaps you come stay with me and I will find you a good husband.” She nodded.
“Thank you, for the offer, that’s very kind, but I am OK. I am not looking for a husband.” I tried to sound light-hearted.
She put her palm in the air, and pretended to write on it. She then looked at me, questioningly. I wasn’t sure how to answer as I wasn’t really sure of the question.
“Pen?” she asked. I reached into my bag and pulled out a pen and some paper. She wrote something down and then gave it to me.
“My address. I am sorry, my English not very good. But I help you. Me, I am nurse. Yes. I meet nice men for you. You come stay with me and I help you marry.”
I realised that my single ways were a true concern for this woman. I was only glad that my mother was not here too, or I would have been outnumbered.
“Ok” I responded, “Perhaps I call you when I finish my travels.”
“Ok. You call me when you finish travel.” The woman seemed satisfied with this compromise. I didn’t feel I needed to mention that my travels might take up my lifetime!”
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* photo by Grahame Smith – Intrepid Photography Competition