Random Meetings

Why do certain people cross our paths for fleeting moments? On buses, planes, trains, in lines?We may never know their names but they make a permanent impression on our minds. Their lives touch ours for a brief moment in time and if you aren’t struck down by Alzheimer’s, their essence will always remain with you. Is there a larger relevance or significance to these meetings?

The passenger sitting next to me on the plane ride back from Tampa turned out to be extremely engaging. A chemist, working with the paint-enhancing qualities of cashew nut shell extracts. A fact that is of no consequence to me but will stay with me forever. Now I know that cashews aren’t just a delicious nut, we paint our houses with it too!

I will never know this person’s name, but I know he lives in Jersey City. He moved there from Tennessee. I know he is well-traveled and well-read (which is why we got talking). We exchanged our paperbacks. I learnt about Donna Leon – a mystery/thriller writer – apparently quite famous and I introduced him to Scott Turow – an author he had heard about but never read. I know he is going to be vacationing in Bulgaria next year and he knows I’ll be spending two weeks in India next year. There was an easy camaraderie between us. I just love it when that happens, when you can just talk to someone for hours and enjoy it.

If he has a good memory he’ll know that there is a woman of Indian origins somewhere in the US who took a rather circuitous route to establishing an American life for herself, crossing two continents twice in her life. A useless factoid for him but forever a part of his memory banks.

Just like the imprints in my memory of a Scottish man I met at the airport eight years ago, who lived in Guam and worked in an aquarium, or the woman whose husband is a pastry chef, or the sad-looking woman who sat next to me on a plane, spoke only French and was from Guinea-Bissau, a country whose name I’ve only seen on her passport.

Why are these people in my life without being in my life? This goes for the cast of characters I see everyday on my bus ride back home from work. There’s Roger the attorney. He loves Matrix and all its sequels, he is a criminal law attorney, he drives a red, two-door Lexus, he just got married and he can’t stand the slightest scratch on the DVDs he lends to other people. Then there’s Mary, a very affluent person who travels to exotic locales several times every month. She has a teenage son who she never gets to see. She is out working and her son is out partying. She doesn’t see him for months at length. We also have Kathy who is always complimenting Mary on her hair or her clothes, asking about her travels, her shopping experiences and lamenting the lack of adventure in her own life. I could go on forever. I have learnt so much about their lives, simply by sitting behind them in the bus and inadvertently eavesdropping on their conversations with the bus driver. They know nothing about me and they would be shocked to learn how much I know about them. Their trivialities are so much a part of me!

Random meetings then, are probably the condiments, the ketchup, the pickles, the herbs and garnishes that make life interesting!

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