She was seated at the next table over. She had seen me come in and had lit up. I understood immediately and waved “hello”. I know what it’s like to suddenly, at the appearance of another, to not be the only disabled person in the room. She, like me, a wheelchair user, pointed to the table beside her as a welcome to Joe and me.
She had been alone when we came in. Her coffee steamed from the cup in front of her.
We took our seats, Joe and I, and got the food off the trays. We were at one of those Interstate stops where you can gas up your car, and depending on what you decide to eat, gas up yourself. I turned to her and asked where she was journeying from and too. It was then that I discovered that her voice also had to journey, from the formulation of thought to word, from words to breath, from breath to speech. I took a few moments for the words to be spoken. They came out softly, but without hesitation.
I was listening to her tell me a story from her travels as a disabled woman, a very funny story, and had just taken a bite when her travelling companion arrived on the scene. She listened for two seconds to take in what was being said and then began to speak over her. Speeding up the conversation. I looked at her and said, “I was speaking with her, please let her finish.” I was polite but firm.
I looked back at the woman who had been in the middle of her story when she was hijacked. She seemed a bit dumbfounded that she had been given a space to finish her stories. Tears formed in her eyes as she continued on, and a couple of times I could see her fighting for the tears not to fall. She had the bearing of a woman with dignity. I knew here friend, or companion, or whomever, was annoyed, at me or at the time it was taking, I don’t know or care.
Her story had a surprise at the end and Joe and I burst out laughing. Now her tears did fall. We chatted for a few minutes more and then she apologized and said she needed to be on her way. We wished them both well on their trip. She stopped her chair beside me, put her hand on my arm and said, “Thank you.”
I wondered, to myself, if this moment, our shared moment, would become a story in her life like she has become one in mine. I wondered at all the stories that are told. At all the opportunities our behaviours and actions will have to be recounted by another. Do we think of ourselves as characters in the novels of other people lives? What will be the chapter heading for the moment we make our appearance or the moment we leave?
One day I hope I’m worth the breath of this woman who loves to tell a story.