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Encounter in the train

I let her walk out of my life. Now her memory is in my mind forever. That was in about 1964. I even remember that it was in September or October, when the days were beginning to be warmer and I would be racing from Windsor Mine Station to get to the pool for my daily practice.

I’d only known her for a short while, the time it took for the train to travel from Johannesburg to Roodepoort West. She wasn’t especially attractive, but I liked her simple, innocent beauty. I liked the freckles on her smooth, pale skin. I liked her nose. I’ll never forget the tiny bit of dry snot that clung to her left nostril, which should have put me off, but, for some strange reason, didn't bother me, in fact it made her look more natural and I liked her more for it. I liked her modest dress of off white, gauze, material with pale orange flowers, open at her throat, showing a long, beautiful, white neck and somewhat bony shoulders. She was natural and beautiful. She wasn’t trying to be beautiful and I think that that’s what made her really beautiful.

Her eyes shone and she looked happy, I didn’t dare to think that they could possibly be shining because of me, as she sat on the blue, leather seat opposite me.

She had flaming red hair. Since then I’ve been convinced that girls with red hair and I have an irresistible affinity for each other. Now, thinking back, I can’t imagine that we spoke, but I know for a fact that we didn’t stop talking. How can that be? I had never met her, we had nothing in common. I never chat to anybody, even with my best friends. What in earth’s name could we have been talking about? I know that I felt comfortable with her, that I enjoyed talking to her, we were meant for each other. I’d never had such an experience in my life before that.

Every encounter holds an element of surprise. This is the source of my delight when I enter a train coach or a bus. One may call it an opportunity, but then an opportunity for what? I say an opportunity for pleasure (something we’re all in search of all the time, whether we admit it or not). We know exactly what we’re looking for and where to search for it, but we only know these things, subconsciously. Encounters take place when we get into a train coach loaded with tons of other human beings like ourselves and when we find what we’re looking for there’s a click somewhere in our brain, like a trigger and we know it’s for sure.

Whenever I entered the coach, which, in those distant days, was every day, twice a day, I expected to meet a girl who would fall head over heels in love with me. Although I always expected this to happen and I still have that expectation to this day, I’m a realistic person and knew then that it would never happen and it’s not ever going to happen.

So, even though I was shocked and surprised when it did happen, I knew that something was expected of me. I was meant to follow her home, as she left the coach at her station, Roodepoort West.

I even have a vision of her opening the garden gate to enter her neat home, of yellow face brick, red stoep and red tiled roof. She greeted her pa, in Afrikaans and pointed to me as if pointing at a stray dog, who had followed her home and who she’d like to keep as a pet.

I should have stood up and followed her. One may say that that was what was meant to be. Her eyes had been telling me to do that. I let her down and I let myself down. I may call it a missed opportunity. One moment, in which to make a decision that would fix the course of my future for the rest of my life. I made my decision in a flash, not to follow her. I could easily have made a decision to follow her.

It was one of those moments that would change my life, taking it to some unknown destiny, that one only knows if one follows it and if one doesn’t, it remains a mystery.

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