The train pulled into the station slowly. Chioma’s eyes stirred and she glanced around the empty train carriage through tired eyes, half expecting an apparition of her father’s lean, long body to appear. Reality hit her hard as the sight of the white woman now sitting across her brought her back to England, the harsh truth. She closed her eyes and tried to return to the same illusive daydream that could transport her back to the wilderness, back to the place that would always remain home… Ira glanced uneasily at the black woman who lay slumped on the train seat facing her.
She looked up and down the aisle frantically; was there any one else in the carriage? She turned back to face the stranger slowly, realising that they were infact alone, and well aware of the uncomfortable silence that hung heavy in the surrounding air. Ira’s heart beat was irregular and her legs were shaking furiously. The single thought running through her mind terrified her, and the fear, which the womans skin colour generated in her young mind, in turn gave birth to the distinct emotions of hatred and hostility towards the stranger in the train.
The stranger looked at Chioma through half closed eyes, avoiding any form of eye contact. Chioma instantly recognised the signs of fear, it always happened. She knew she was a big woman with a scarred face as black as onyx. Would it make a difference if she could tell them the story behind the scars? No, the reasons behind the usual human reaction when faced with anything different were deep-rooted and secured firmly by hatred and bitterness. The essential problem was the colour of her skin, and how was she to make excuses for that? Her hair was thin and dry, her skin was jet black. Her lips remained slightly parted as their eyes met.
The eyes lingered for a moment longer than a glance, and Ira felt a chill run through her body as she recovered from her first hand encounter with a person from the African race. The parted lips slowly shaped to form a smile, the encouraging look in her eyes further emphasising the warmth of her smile. The attempt was not welcome. Ira felt anger; she had done no wrong to be punished by the harrowing experience of enduring a train journey with some one so inferior to herself. She felt fear; her mother’s words of the inherent violence that ran through their veins was ingrained firmly in the memories of Germany, and this is what she knew.
She felt shame, confused at the intensity of her emotions and bewilderment at the reality of the situation. The black woman was actually there, so close… Chioma’s father always told her that a smile is the most precious gift she could offer another person, and he always referred to one as a seal of mutual understanding and friendship. Chioma was mildly surprised as the strongly negative reaction it received. Why? Chioma recognised that the stranger was on the same boat as her, making the same journey and encountering many of the same problems. The white woman was a foreigner; Chioma could detect the needy look in her eyes.
The need for companionship was clear. Like herself, didn’t this woman feel like an outsider craving acceptance in a new world? Wasn’t Chioma’s smile one of acceptance and recognition? She could feel that hatred, some thing almost as physical as walls. One could almost touch the destructive energy escaping her small body. Ira allowed these feeling to emerge, regardless of whether it was right or wrong, good or bad. She was finally sick of the self-control she has been practising since she entered England. She was tired of masks which only allowed appropriate behaviour to be seen.
She knew she had to unleash the fierce repulsion she was experiencing when faced with the sight of black skin. Surely, this could not be right… Ira tried to check her feelings, but it was too late. The hatred had been unleashed, it now hung in the air suffocating them both, and Ira had opened the door to her personal hell. She faced her fears, her intolerance and, most importantly, she confronted the loneliness that plagued her days and nights. She acknowledged that words were essential, however dangerous they may be. Weapons of deception in the games people play, she still needed them.
She wondered though; was a smile a sufficient substitute? Chioma could feel the familiar sensation envelope her body and cause her head to spin. She smiled to herself, and waited for the moment to pass. Ira hated the consideration and friendship that had been offered to her, as it had asked for nothing in return. Which was absurd, unreal, and against the laws of nature! These thoughts entrapped her momentarily, and soon she had felt such pure hatred, she had no more malice left in her heart. By finally allowing her negative feelings to surface, feelings that had been repressed within her for years, they were no longer necessary.
They could leave… The agonising feeling of emptiness that enclosed her was intense, but it passed, and as she lifter her head, Ira looked at Chioma through changed eyes. This was a woman, not unlike her self, and this woman was beautiful. Her smile came easily, but words were impossible. The two women looked into each other’s eyes, each from different walks of life, and each holding a memory of a life that they had left behind. A world that they could no longer enter was calling out to them. Ira had been lonely for years; she had felt misunderstood, detached, alone.
As she recognised the infinite beauty of a seemingly simple smile, the feeling of joy overwhelmed her. She believed in the warmth and friendship being communicated through their eyes, and she felt connected to her new friend in an inexplicable way. They called out to each other, and this silent cry for respect and appreciation was more powerful than any possible words they could have expressed. The eyes linger, smiles are exchanged. Language creates a barrier; the journey continues in silence. Yet the eyes remain fixed, unchanged, building a relationship of understanding and mutual respect.
They have both been there; they know what it’s like. Has Ira met the stranger before? Does she know her? She longs to talk to her and find out… Chioma felt relief wash over her as the young white woman released her hatred and accepted her colour was beautiful. The connection between them was profound, and Chioma couldn’t help but acknowledge the sense of recognition. Yes, they had passed the first stage. No longer strangers, they were now acquaintances, able to perceive each other as kindred beings. This woman gave her the recognition she longed for, the acceptance that Chioma remembered and missed.
Chioma had immediately understood what passed between them. Chioma felt rejuvenated, much like a new person altogether. Ira felt this peculiar sense of satisfaction and tranquillity overcome her mind and body. Life was no longer so hard to accept, and people were not as confusing. Exhilaration and optimism filled the air. The smiles remained fixed. The placid gazes intensified as each woman realised the purpose and importance of this first encounter. Ira saw how this rendezvous on the train had changed her perspective. Furthermore, this encounter had affected her spirit, her self esteem, Ira’s ability to love and accept.
Ira realised that this encounter held a hidden message for her, a message that she was slowly coming to understand. How could she ignore this encounter as being no more than a mere coincidence? She had been fighting for that tiny bit of space in a strange community, where she had to put up a fight if she didn’t want others imposing their rules on her. The stranger had helped her understand herself. They were fighting together. Ira now understood. “Some one in the world awaits you, whether it’s in the middle of a desert or in some great city.
And when two such people meet, the past and future become unimportant. There is only that one moment, and the incredible certainty then that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only. It is that hand that evokes love and friendship, and creates a twin soul for every person in this world. ” Chioma fondly recalled her father’s words, and felt assured by this memory. She had crossed the desert, travelled the great city, and was finally fulfilled. She looked over at her friend who now sat next to her, and noticed nothing but the depth and beauty of her sea-green eyes.