The most lovely Indian woman smiled at me. She sat in a wheelchair at a cafe table in an airport. She wore a sari the colour of marmalade and a red bindi on that space where eyebrows often meet. Her black hair was streaked white like smudged chalk on a blackboard. It was parted down the middle and pulled back into a tight bun at the nape of her neck.
She wore that style of eyeglasses that makes the eyes appear larger, like framed magnifying glasses. I’m thankful for that because her eyes were beautiful, peaceful, with the crinkles of pressed newspaper that was once folded delicately over and over to create a fan, a paper crane, or to simply relieve someone’s restless hands.
Her smile revealed a Madonna-like gap between her front teeth. She wore the delicate jewelry of an humbly elegant, cared-for woman. Golden rings and coloured gemstones and dainty chains. Her face sprouted crab-apple cheeks when she smiled and her chin jut forwards like her jaw was seeking to reclaim the once-had teeth of her youth. Imagine the countless losses of a woman her age, but the loss of teeth…
Her face was really, really cute as is often the case with elderly people. And I wonder how a woman of her generation came to exist in that moment as she was, bathed in such light having lived her life in India, a place known to be hard for women. What all has she seen in her life? What has she endured? What has she loved? Where do her sorrows and stale rage reside if not in her face? In an old suitcase long ago put out with the trash? In her useless legs?
She wrung her hands, creased like rippled sand, elbows propped up on the arms of her chair. But not with anxiety or worry or impatience. Rather, like she was rubbing lotion into her hands–gently, lovingly, consciously, like she was enjoying touching her own hands, perhaps a way of staying connected to herself as she drifted into reverie, stared into space, through a window invisible to the rest of us. Her duties in life fulfilled, her existence and short time left in this world accepted.
What an incredible task, to age into such grace after the battles, the messes, the losses of a long life. To caress her own hands, is to take such simple tender care of herself, so to take care of the world, whether the world be one person or every living thing.
She stuck me as a woman who always kept a small piece of herself for herself. A part no one else can access, though they can sense it. Like that first piece of the day at dawn when no one else is around and the whole world is yours for a few moments, the whole world that fits into that tiny piece of ground and marmalade-coloured sky.
When I looked up from my page she was gone.