Chance Encounters

I happened to be on the train into Perth CBD the other day, and was sitting behind an African lady. Across from her, on the other side of the carriage, was another African lady. The two of them were having a grand old time engaged in deep conversation across the 5  feet or so of space. For a minute I wondered why these two obviously very good friends were sitting on opposite sides of the carriage, in different seats, and chattering across the aisle, rather then sharing the same seat. As I eavesdropped on their conversation, I came to understand the situation better.

The 2 ladies were not close friends. In fact, they were complete strangers who happened to be on the same train at the same time. Which one had approached the other first, and for what reason, was not important. The important thing was that, at some point on their journey, one of them said “Hello” to the other, and the other responded in a friendly manner. And then they began a conversation, and, because they shared much in common, despite one being from Liberia and the other from Cameroon, there was much to talk about. I couldn’t help but notice how their faces lit up when one sparked off a common thread in the other, it was joyful to see.

As the train approached a station, the African lady in front of me got up to go. The other one whipped out her mobile phone and said “We should exchange telephone numbers so we can chat some more”. By now the train had reached the station and the doors had opened. The other lady rummaged frantically in her handbag for her mobile phone. I knew that she wasn’t going to have the time to find her phone, exchange numbers with her new friend, say good bye and get off the train. So, I tapped her on her shoulder.

I said, “I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on your conversation earlier. Don’t worry if you can’t get off the train here. You can always get off at the next stop and catch the train in the opposite direction back here. It’s not everyday that you make a new friend. So, take your time, get her number, meet up for coffee or lunch another day. Enjoy your new friendship.”

She laughed, and did as I said. The ladies exchanged numbers as the train moved on. They still clearly had a lot to say to each other. When the train stopped at the next stop, the first lady got off, after promising to call the second one.

There was one more stop before I had to get off the train myself. I found out from the other lady that she’d been down to Mandurah earlier that morning, as her son had told her his house needed some repairs. However, when she got there, he’d forgotten about her visit and had gone out. She told me she’d walked around his housing estate and seen a property for sale that she would be making enquiries about. But now she was headed up to her other son’s house in Osborne Park, to check in on him.

I said, “I wouldn’t classify this as a wasted exercise. If you hadn’t gone down to Mandurah this morning, you wouldn’t have seen that property for sale. And then you wouldn’t have been on this train and met your new friend. Isn’t Life wonderful?” And she laughed and agreed.

After finishing my business in town, I dropped by Nespresso for a cup of coffee. There’s a round kiosk inside the store just by the door, where you can taste free samples of their range of coffee. I like to have a cup just before heading to the train station right opposite the store. Today was no different.

As I sipped at my coffee, I turned to the young man next to me and asked what he thought of his cup of coffee. He said it tasted just like how a “flat white” should taste (that’s a cafe latte for readers outside Australia). Then, out of the blue, he mentioned how coffee helped him de-stress, as stress often triggered epileptic fits in him. The tall lady on the other side of him empathised with him, and said her nephew suffered epileptic fits triggered by stress too. Then the young man, whose name was Richard, told of how he’d quit Year 11 of high school because he was constantly being bullied for being epileptic.

He said that the last straw was when he’d suffered a fit in front of his so-called friends, and, instead of helping him, they’d simply lain him down and stolen all his clothes. He’d woken up to find only his underpants on, and his shirt covering him. He’d had to wrap the shirt around his lower body and walk home that way, and everyone had laughed at him, rather than being sympathetic or offering assistance. The tall lady and I shook our heads in disbelief. Teenagers can be so cruel!

Richard said he didn’t mind having fits, but what he minded was not knowing what had gone on while he was unconscious. I recalled a recent movie called “Unfriended”, where a teenage girl had been secretly filmed by her “friends” while passed out from drinking, and the video had gone viral and as a consequence of the cyber bullying and taunts from her peers, that girl had committed suicide. Richard had seen that film, and he agreed heartily that it was indeed the lowest of the lowest of humanity to behave in such a manner.

Richard then said that leaving his school had been the best thing he’d done. He was now enrolled in a TAFE (a technical college) studying towards qualifications in Psychology, and he’d spoken to many people in the city, from all walks of life, and so he felt more positive about his life now than ever before. He said his parents had not been supportive of his decision to leave school, but then that was their problem, not his. He said they’d told him he wasn’t old enough to make such decisions about his own life.

I said, “You don’t have to be of a certain age to know what you want to do with your life. Perhaps you needed to experience all that bullying from your peers, and to leave school and come to the city and find yourself, in order to place your life in the direction you’re in now. It might not have happened if you’d stayed in that school and continued to put up with the bullying.”

I came away from that encounter feeling that, here was a young man who’d had the good fortune to awaken from his slumber, and discover his life’s true purpose. And at such a young age too. He’s one of the lucky ones.  So many of us, either by chance or by design, choose to sleepwalk through this so-called Life, and never discover ourselves, or the real wonders of the world.

I had a really good day, that day.


(Image found on Google Images, by, from the writer Frank Herbert).

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