The eyes of the stray lady at the entrance to the train station.
Light is ever a source of inspiration to me.
No, strike that sentence.
Light is a physical experience, a sensory high that leaves me filled with something I can’t quite name, and that afterwards wants to find its way out of me again, into the world. Through words, song, feeling.
Usually light will make me the best kind of happy.
Sometimes, though, it makes me sad.
When I commute to work, I have to change trains at Brussels North station and wait for a connection. I get off at what children call the Dino Museum station. Adults will know it as one of the closest to the European Parliament. The nearest metro station in that area, Maalbeek, was hit in the terrorist attacks last year, killing twenty people and injuring over a hundred.
For a while there have been maintenance works on this particular track. Trains to either Namur or Liège are put on a detour route. That’s why for the last two weeks I rode one stop further down to Brussels Central station, and made my way up from there on foot to my office, a twenty-minute walk.
It’s not quite the distance really, but (1) it’s uphill, (2) my lungs are not up to par (asthma) and (3) our capital’s air quality is by far the worst in the country, so I usually try to avoid this scenario. But since I dislike crowded buses or metro cars even worse than open air fumes, I do it anyway.
There’s a woman sitting where I exit the station. She must be over fifty. She looks tired, worn, and sad. She’s squatting in a corner with a paper cup, saluting every passer-by with the same ‘Bonjour. Merci.’ , a sad droning song that never stops while commuters stream past her.
I will gladly throw a coin in a street musician’s violin case, but I never know what to do about beggars. After a while it gets difficult to stomach all the human suffering you encounter in the capital’s streets. My heart is torn, my mind tells me I can’t feed all these people, and sometimes I simply shy away from their misery or their hostility. I feel like a coward, and I probably am one, hurrying past them, trying not to look them in the eye.
There was something different about the woman at the exit of Brussels Central. Or perhaps I was just different that morning. As I came up with the escalator our eyes were, for a moment, on the same height. As I stepped off the escalator and headed for the exit, she said, like she did to everyone: ‘Bonjour’. I gave her a smile. ‘Bonjour’.
The light in her eyes.
I think she was happier with my simple reply than she would have been with any money I could have given her.
For a moment we were just two souls having a genuine connection.
Since then, I have seen her again several times, sitting where I walk into the morning to start my work day.
She recognizes me. We smile and we greet.
I don’t give her money, but I do give her something else, I think.
When the maintenance works on my regular train track are over and my commute routine returns to normal, I will miss her.