"They are for my wife."
My lack of languages other haunts me when I travel. Other people know multiple languages. I carry only English - and that not well - plus some Sesame Street Spanish. A smattering of high school French, limited in vocabulary, atrocious in pronunciation, travels with me.
"They are for my wife."
Despite my language limits I do remember enough French to know that is what he said.
We were on the number 5 bus headed from Grand-Sacconex to the Church of Scotland in Geneva.
He, well he must have been going to see his wife.
Tufts of white-gray hair poked out from beneath his gray hat. He wore a gray-checked suit. The bright flowers wrapped in tissue and cellophane and clutched tightly in his age-spotted left hand offered a striking contrast to the pervasive grayness.
He slid across the bench to sit by the window and with a gesture of his free hand offered the vacated seat beside him. "Merci," I said as I declined. He shrugged and turned to look out the window, lost in thought.
A woman entered at the next stop and took the seat. She spoke, complimenting the beauty of the flowers, or so I presume because of his answer.
He did not make eye contact as he responded with a simple phrase that I could understand. "They are for my wife."
His seat-mate tried to make conversation with him. He replied in monosyllables, his gaze remained fixed outside the bus although it was clear he looked not to see but to retreat, remember, reflect.
At one point she asked me a question. Having no idea what she had asked, I turned to those dim recesses where reside what remains of four years of French reside to find the appropriate response. "Je ne sais pas." Feelings of incompetence and arrogance washing over me, I looked away.
When she left the bus, a couple stops later, he did not repeat his offer of the seat, but continued to stare out the window.
Then I saw it. In the corner of his right eye. A tear. One solitary tear.
At that moment, the bus pulled to a stop across from a medical facility and he began to move, struggling to cross the bench and keep his grip on the flowers. I moved to offer to hold them, but saw the tear again and thought better. I took his elbow.
He stood up, straightened his shoulders, and exited the bus.
And I was left to wonder about the memories, the pain, the grief, the love contained in that one tear.
See you along the Trail.
8 May 2011