I’m a firm supporter of public transport – yay for saving the ozone layer and gas money! lol – and yesterday, when I got on the bus for my hour-and-a-bit-long commute home, I spotted a little, elderly couple huddled together in their seats, half way down the aisle. As I got closer, I realized with some surprise that I knew them.
They are good family friends we’d met over 20 years ago in church. Although we don’t see them often any more, we’ve stayed connected through their grown children and the occasional combined church activities. I love meeting up with them because even though their memory is going, and they move slower now and don’t speak as loud as they used to, they are always so warm and loving, and remind me of a time in my life – oh so long ago – of innocence and youth.
I stopped to talk with them – in my broken Samoan, thank goodness they know a little English, too – and learned that they had decided to use the free pass they get as senior citizens to go for a bus ride around the city. Really? I asked. And what part of Auckland had they travelled through so far today?
With beaming grins and animated gestures they mapped out their bus route as if it were a great adventure around the world. I couldn’t help but smile at their enthusiasm for something that, for me, was simply a way to get from home to work and back everyday. After a little more chit chat, I excused myself to sit in my usual spot at the very back of the bus.
Over the next hour or so, between checking my emails, napping, flicking through music and texting, I’d sneak glances at the elderly couple and recalled some of the things I knew about them.
Their youngest of 7 children was well into his thirties now, so that put them in the age range of late 70s early 80s, with something like 15 to 20 grandchildren. For as long as I’d known them, they’d lived in an area of South Auckland known for its poverty and crime, but their house was always spotless. Stepping onto their property was like walking into the garden of Eden with its manicured lawns and beautifully kept plants.
Not to say that their life was easy. I know they had their fair share of troubles over the years. Like a lot of us migrants to NZ, they struggled with language and cultural issues. Money was tight so they both worked long hours of menial labour. Their children weren’t always angels, especially through their teen years (hey, it’s a tough neighbourhood). I’m sure they had ups and downs in their marriage too – I remember the man being quite the character for a while – and they also had a few health problems between them to manage.
Sitting there on the bus though, they looked so… serene. I don’t think they said a single word to each other my entire ride home, but I noticed them gazing out the windows as if they were seeing this old town for the very first time. In a manner typical of older Samoan couples, they didn’t hold hands or lean on each other in unnecessary displays of affection, but if you paid close attention, you could still see the solidarity in their subtle body language: The Mrs looked tiny and snug between the window and her Mister, who had an arm propped against the seat in front of him, as if protecting their little cubicle from movement down the bus aisle.
This pair had been together for 50 or more years now, I calculated. I can only imagine what else they were able to communicate to each other in their own private, silent language, developed over so much time.
Geek as I am, hard as I try to be, in a moment of pure humanity, I couldn’t help but hope for the privilege of someday knowing that kind of love.
We arrived at my stop, and I paused to say goodbye to my old friends. They broke into bright, wrinkled smiles again, as if I’d woken them up from a sweet, distant dream. They told me to take care of myself, to send my love to my family, and that we’ll see each other again soon… and as they waved their farewells, I thought I saw their eyes well up a little bit.
I guess seeing me – someone they’d known since she was a child – all grown up now was yet another reminder of just how much they had experienced so far in this life… together.