The bus missed her by just a few inches as it shrieked to halt. Yet, there she was standing, rigid as a mountain, as if she didn’t care. As if she was used to playing games with death and winning. And when the doors hissed open, she climbed onboard, quickly scanned the seats before sinking next to me. Our reckless charioteer continued weaving us in and out the morning traffic.
She was a chocolate-coloured, frail women in her late thirties (I am guessing), wearing a pair of thin, narrow-framed glasses, that looked like it was holding on to her low nose-bridge with great difficulty. There she was, just an ordinary face in the crowd, on that Sunday morning, sharing a journey towards the city with me and around ten other disgruntled folks. And if it wasn’t for the black scarf wrapped perfectly around her head, I probably would have missed her all together.
Yes, the thin, intricately laced bandanna told me a story that made her stand apart from the rest that morning. While the scarf in itself had the word Survivor written all over it, the transparent laces told me that she was one bold woman, unashamed of her bruises.
I come from a part of the world where women are encouraged to add layers of clothing so that they are not ridiculed, or misunderstood for trying to entice men, or to safeguard their assets from vile eyes and/or to simply appeal to the traditions of the land. We are encouraged to wear a brassiere at all times, a petticoat on top of that, then a blouse on top of that, and then a stole or shawl that covers all evidence of the landscape below. We are told most often to hide those parts of our body that are unnatural or that could make the general crowd uncomfortable. The worst of course, is that every fifth person on the street is a self-appointed moral police, licensed to reprimand or punish if these codes of dressings are not adhered to.
Hence I could understand if she wanted to wear a scarf simply because she did not want to draw too much attention or negative energy into her life. Yet, the way the soft cloth was draped, made me wonder if she had not done it out of habit. Clearly, not a lot of effort had gone into hiding the gleaming baldness underneath it. So what if there was hardly any evidence left of the rich locks that once sprang from there? She decided to not sport that ‘Wig of a thing’ and ruin what was natural and beautiful in its own way. Respect.
As our bus lunged forward, taking sharp turns and making sudden breaks, wearing out the unassuming pedestrians on its way, my co-passenger and I continued in silence. I plugged in on my earphones and started to scroll down my playlist. What do I listen to? I need a happy song to set the mood for the day. What do I play?
And then I hear a soft humming from the next seat. A sweet, melodious tune, vaguely familiar to my ears. Yes, she was indeed humming to herself, and enjoying it too the way her fingers tapped along. She was her own music. No earphones, no iPod. And I wasn’t the only one who had taken notice. The couple seated right across us had their eyes on her, and a weird expression on their faces. Amused? Surprised?
I wanted to check if her lips showed a hint of a smile as opposed to the stoic expression she had walked in with. But considering that she was sitting right next to me and facing the other way, any attempt to do so would look very much like I was staring. And I did not want to be the one that stared. Hence I left that to my imagination. And in my mind, I could clearly see a smile on her lips, unperturbed by the reckless driving that caught her out-of-pitch from time to time, the dark clouds hanging heavily in the sky blocking the morning sun or even by the lack of an orchestra or audience to her rendering.
Something flickered within me. Shame? Probably.
And as the buildings fell behind us and large drops of rain snaked down the window panes, I listened to Anni and Agnetha sing their hearts out.
“Chiquitita, you and I know
How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving
You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end
You will have no time for grieving
Chiquitita, you and I cry
But the sun is still in the sky and shining above you
Let me hear you sing once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita”
A shout out to all my sisters, my friends, who have gone through the pain and cruelty inflicted by Cancer and have survived: I am proud of you. I have deep respect for you.
And to the ones who are still fighting: I am there for you. Even if we may not know each other, know that you are always in my silent prayers. Know that you are not alone.