A missed opportunity

A  She sat down
facing me as the train pulled out of the station.  She settled in and began to arrange her
various belongings around her.  The
wrinkled face and faded blue eyes might have belonged to anyone from fifty to
ninety.  The old woman gradually settled
down and turned her weary eyes towards the landscape flashing past the
window.  I found myself staring at her,
fascinated, and suddenly embarrassed at myself, I picked up my book and tried
to read.  She picked up one of her many
plastic bags and started to rummage, pulling out a half eaten sandwich wrapped
in cling-film.  Her long thin fingers
were none too clean but this didn’t seem to bother her as she wolfed down the
make-shift meal.  Having eaten every last
crumb, she carefully smoothed out the cling-film and folded it neatly before
stowing it away with the rest of her treasures.

By this time the carriage had begun to fill up, but I
noticed there was plenty of space around the woman.  Most people were giving her a wide berth
because of the way she was dressed.  She
was wearing two overcoats under a very dirty raincoat.  She had on some sort of home-made leg
warmers, they something like a sweater worn upside down on her match-stick legs
and her feet were encased in men’s working boots that looked at least two sizes
too big for her.  This was topped off
with a woollen scarf that looked about four feet long wrapped loosely around a
scrawny neck.

She didn’t seem to notice the cold shoulder the
passengers were giving her as she reached into a different bag.  She pulled out a tattered book and an ancient
pair of spectacles that were taped at both ear-pieces with coloured masking
tape.  She settled them on her nose and as
she picked up her book, I was rather taken aback to see it was a book of

Amazingly, my main feeling was one of resentment. How
dare she read poetry, in her circumstances, when here I was, an educated person
reading trash.  Then I wondered how did I
know she was un-educated?  Why should I
assume that just because she was obviously down on her luck that this had
always been the case?  I began to see her
in a different light, as a person, not just as some kind of tramp taking up
space and polluting the air.  I wondered
what had brought her so low.  Now that I
really looked at her, I noticed that she seemed to be of good breeding.  She had a beautiful high brow and a delicate
chin below a patrician nose, and though she was painfully thin she carried
herself well.

Trying to think of a way to engage her in conversation,
my thoughts were interrupted by a commotion at the other end of the
carriage.  An elderly man was on his
knees clutching at his chest, while his immediate neighbours stood around
wringing their hands.  Before I could
react, the old woman had left her seat and hurried up the aisle.  Despite her frail appearance she seemed to grow
in stature as she barked out orders, and soon the man was stretched out on the
floor and she knelt down beside him.  By
this time the man had stopped breathing, but the woman immediately started
mouth to mouth resuscitation and heart massage.
Because of her under-nourished state she soon tired and asked for
volunteers to help.  She gave me a
grateful smile as I raised my hand before showing me what to do.

When the ambulance finally took the man away,
declaring he would probably be fine, we had been taking turns in CPR for twenty
minutes, and had found a bond forming between us.  For this reason I was devastated when I
realised that the old woman had left the train when it was stopped for the
ambulance.  I would never know her story;
never know why she had ended up as a bag lady.
She had reacted like a doctor in a medical emergency; she read poetry as
a pastime.  I felt deprived,
ashamed.  I had judged her unworthy of
conversation and I had missed a chance to get to know a very interesting
travelling companion. I would always regret my snobbery and the missed



About margaretmarymurphy

I'm an elderly woman (1 husband 6 children 15 grandchildren & 1 great grandson ) I love talking, writing, looking at art & I take a porcelein painting class & can't for the day I get my own kiln.
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2 Responses to A missed opportunity

  1. Joe Cluxton says:

    Great, Margaret, I enjoyed reading it. Makes me think perhaps I should get to know people better before I tweet about them

  2. Wonderful post, Margaret. So moving. It made me think immediately of a crusty, dirty, yellow-fingernail man who lived deep in the Arkansas woods with his wife and son, who, upon meeting I dismissed as backwards, but then I saw all the books in their home. Books everywhere. I picked one up and soon found myself in deep philosophical discussion with a former professor from Berkeley who had chosen to leave that life for a simpler world. Four hours later I left with one of Aristotle’s works in my hand and a promise to return it. Never did, and I felt as bad about that as the regret in your post. Still, I treasured meeting him. Thanks for making me remember.

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