(Day 8 – A place you’ve travelled to and where else you want to travel)
I met a stranger yesterday*. A fragment of my past. A glimpse of a probable future.
She was wearing a flowered sleeveless dress which fell stylishly just past her knees. Her shoulder length hair was set in a perm and her almond-shaped eyes and porcelain skin showed that she was of Chinese descent.
A lady sporting shorts and a casual boycut introduced me to her. I don’t know, however, if the brief exchange that we had was even a proper introduction.
“Hello,” The sporty lady greeted me. We were at the Putrajaya KLIA Transit station and I was on my way home from work. She spoke to me in Malay, thinking that I was a local. “Awak pergi Bandar Tasik Selatan?” It was a good thing that I understood what she said. Was I going to Bandar Tasik Selatan?
I nodded as I fed my ticket into the machine at the station’s entrance. The gate opened and I hurried in.
“Dia nak pergi Bandar Tasik Selatan,” she said, motioning to the girly stranger. “Tapi, dia dari Sydney so dia tak tahu macamana.” She said some other words in Bahasa Melayu which I couldn’t understand. But I was getting a distinct feeling that she wanted me to escort the woman, if not show her the way. “So can you please tell her where to get down later, when you reach the station?” She finally asked.
I didn’t think that I really had that much of a choice. “Okay, okay,” I replied.
“Thank you ah,” the lady in shorts said as she fed her companion’s ticket into the machine and waved goodbye.
“Which platform do I take?” My new travelling companion asked once she walked through the gate. She looked a little lost.
“This one,” I said, pointing to the one we were already making our way towards. I was thankful that she spoke to me in English. That meant it was okay for me to speak to her in English too.
We made our way down the escalator and to the platform where the usual commuters were already waiting. “We still have six minutes,” I told her. She nodded.
“Thank you, ah. So, is Bandar Tasik Selatan the next station or…?”
“Yeah, it’s the next station. After that is KL Sentral. Bandar Tasik is around ten to fifteen minutes away,” I informed her. “I’m Mari, by the way. Where are you from?”
I neglected to ask her for her name, and she neglected to give me that information as well. But she replied to my question promptly. “Actually, I’m from Sydney. But I actually just came there 25 years ago. I’m from Ipoh, originally. But now so many things have changed here. I don’t know where to go and how to get there.”
My eyes widened at the revelation of two significant details. Number one, she was from Sydney, Australia (her friend did mention that earlier, but that important fact became lost in the jumble of Malay words that I didn’t understand) and number two, she had stayed there longer than I had even stayed on planet earth.
“Oh really?” I said, trying to hide my surprise. “I’ve actually been to Sydney. Do you know Armidale? I lived there for a couple of years.”
That got the conversation rolling. In the span of six minutes, we were able to talk about Aussie weather, schooling there, outback schools, the rise of mamak stalls in the city, and the rise of the cost of living as well.
It was funny because I had been thinking about Australia for the past days. And there I was, conversing about the Land Down Under with a stranger whose name I still didn’t know.
“Do you ever think of going back there for a visit?” She asked me at some point in the conversation.
“I do. I’m not sure about the visa though. I was a kid when my parents processed them and everything.”
“Oh, it’s very easy,” she said. “You can just do some applications online.”
That made me think. Occasionally, I did imagine myself walking up O’dell Street again. I’ve had thoughts of the bike track, of the Armidale Town Centre, of the town library, of UNE and of Point Lookout. It would be nice to go back to those childhood memories again, one day.
Our train arrived and interrupted my reverie. “Train’s here,” I chirped. We made our way in and found a seat. I told her she could sleep since she mentioned that she still had jetlag.
She closed her eyes and I, tired from a long week, tried to doze off. I peeked at her through half-opened eyelids. In her, I saw a traveller and a settler. How she managed to stay put in a foreign land for such a long time was beyond me. I guess it helped that she had her husband and kids with her. Plus she was able to go back to Malaysia from time to time.
As for me, it has been barely three years since I have been in this foreign land. I’m betting that I’ll be staying here longer, but how long exactly, I know not. Will I be a settler like her as well?
Of course, I’d still like to go out and about, hop from one country to another. I want to travel to Vietnam. I want to travel to Europe – to France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and England. I want to go to India, to Africa, and all the other nations that I type out every Friday. And yes, perhaps I want to go back to Australia, back to the US, back to Hong Kong, Cambodia, and Singapore. Travelling runs in my blood.
The train slowed down and Bandar Tasik Selatan came into view. I opened my eyes and smiled at her. “We’re here. After this, I’ll escort you to the taxi stand. It’s also on my way, so it’s okay.”
We joined the sea of commuters and weaved our way through them. We continued to make small talk, this time about Malaysian public transportation.
When we arrived at the taxi stand, she said, “Good thing I have you, or I would have been lost.”
She patted me on the shoulder. “Alright, goodbye ah. Thanks again!”
As she walked towards the line of taxis, I just shook my head and smiled.
I had an encounter with a stranger – a fragment of my past, a glimpse of my probable future.
*Yesterday being a Friday, since I wrote this down on a Saturday.