This post is written in response to this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Person, Place Thing. The excerise is to pick a person, a place and a thing and describe them for possible future use in fiction. It is a good exercise for me, since I need to practice taking the everyday and using it in my writing. I was not able to follow the instructions completely, having no time to go to a café or restaurant this week, instead I did my observations during my 10 minute bus ride home from work.
The woman must be about 60 years old. Her face is deeply lined, decades of emotion leaving their marks on her features. There are wrinkles, but only as light marks in a face softened by aging. Once a strong square face, now rounded, with gently sagging cheeks and velvety skin. Deep-set brown eyes under lighter eyebrows (greying perhaps?). I cannot tell if her hair is grey, it is hidden beneath a flower patterned scarf that covers her head. The flowers are light red, the blotches of colour not always falling within the borders of the drawings. The scarf is not tied in the traditional muslim fashion but her brown dress is islamic in style. Perhaps she is from Eastern Europe rather than North Africa or the Middle East? I have some vague notion that flowery scarfs, simply tied under the chin would be more likely to appear in that part of the world. She turns around and looks at the European Parliament as we pass its shiny facade, and I imagine that she is a visitor here. Her hands are tightly clutched around an object, something white (a piece of paper perhaps?). Directions to somewhere? A lonely old lady from Eastern Europe visiting Brussels. What is she doing here? Why has she come?
She is a steady figure in the constantly moving bus. The bus jolts this way and that as it navigates the badly maintained streets of Brussels, while trying to avoid a crash in the unruly rush-hour traffic. It is one of the new buses that were brought into circulation some years ago, replacing the yellow and blue colour theme with a more restrained combination of bronze and silver. But a vehicle of public transport never maintains its pristine quality for very long and the passing years have lefts their marks, much like the lines on the old woman’s face. A scratch here, a worn patch of upholstery there. The floor is patterned by a myriad of shoe-prints, remnants of people on their way somewhere. At this time of the day the bus is packed, and the ones of us who are standing sway as the bus turns the corner onto Rue du Trône. We hold on tightly to bars and loops, trying to avoid too much intimacy with the next passenger. I am standing right next to stroller with a small boy of about two years who seems excited by the ride. His mother holds on to the stroller with difficulty. Next to her is the old lady, sitting calm and steady through the constant motion. Suddenly she turns and looks at the young child. She smiles.
At that moment I see what she is holding in her hand. It is not the directions to some new place, or an important document. It s a spoon. A white plastic spoon with a red handle. The plastic is worn, maybe even chewed on. In the cup of the spoon lingers the rests of something that could be either chocolate ice-cream or chocolate pudding. Someone has pulled the spoon out through their mouth, not closing their lips enough to catch all of it. Suddenly the old lady changes before my eyes. She is not a lonely old woman in a new city, nervously clutching directions. She is a grandmother travelling on the bus with her daughter and grandson. A moment earlier, before I got on, she was feeding her grandson something sweet, using his favourite spoon, the old plastic one, with the red handle.