She was beautiful! She was Pakistani!
She strolled over to where I sat, on the banks of the St Lawrence, in the USA, just before the river rolled into the Great Niagara. “May I sit here with you?” she asked. “Sure,” I said and made place for her on the wooden bench. We sat still and watched the giant river, and in the distance the mighty roar of the majestic falls. “Are you going back to New York?” she asked. I nodded. “May I travel with you?”. I nodded again, then looked at her puzzled. “You afraid of something?” I asked as gently as I could. She shuddered.
“I am a college student,” she said “last week I crossed the Niagara to the Canadian side with friends. “I forgot to carry my passport. I tried to return. Emigration refused. I had to stay behind in Canada alone, till my passport was sent across. It was frightening.”
We watched the Falls together. A Pakistani and an Indian. To the people passing by there was no difference. Just another man and woman!
The Greyhound bus from Buffalo left quite late. She sat next to me. We chatted through the night. She about her Pakistan, me about my India. She told me about Benazir, about college life in Pakistan, she talked about the role of the youth and about women in the country and then she listened as I told her about my beloved country to which I would be returning to in a week’s time.
And as the Greyhound purred along, she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. I dozed off too, and felt myself enter the land of nod.
It was a slight nudge that woke me up.
Enrolled for May? No? Why?
I opened eyes and looked. Her head rested ever so gently on my shoulder. She was fast asleep. Tired, exhausted, three nights alone in a strange country, but now secure. I saw her vulnerability, I felt her helplessness and I tried not to move so she could sleep. I stayed awake and she rested, oblivious that my tired shoulder was pillow to her undisturbed journey with Morpheus.
A Pakistani and an Indian, to the rest, we were just another couple, a man and woman, tired after a pleasure trip.
We shook hands at the New York bus terminal at Port Authority, and she went her way and I went mine. I left for India and she called me a day before and wished me well. “Thank you my friend,” she said.
Today I read with sadness of Pakistan offering help to a helpless India reeling under Covid, and we refusing it and I thought of her. Was she also thinking the same thoughts? Of a man and a woman on a Greyhound bus, where my shoulder came to her aid?
The Americans in that Greyhound bus, looked back and saw, just another man looking after a woman. Can’t we show the world the same picture?
Two nations, trusting each other
Leaning on each other for support.
She was not enemy. She was just another woman, fragile, delicate and beautiful..!
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