Thursday was the last day of work. An early closure, coffee late in the morning, then home. Catch the train and start the final preparations for the big day.
The train platform was almost empty. A train for the line I did not want had just departed, taking most of the passengers with it. Just a few people waiting for the Belgrave train, me included.
I sat on a bench, thought about listening to some music, but did not. I just thought. It has, by almost any standards, been a big year for me. I noticed the old lady walking through the ticket barrier. Frail, but not broken, old but not yet without independence.
She sat next to me, slightly closer than I would have expected, but I such is life. You can’t travel on public transport without pulling your personal space tight around you. But this did seem a little strange. Plenty of space, but she choose to sit close.
Almost at once she started talking – “I’m only going one stop” she said “I have run short of my tablets”. “I used to walk” she said “but not anymore”. I made some non-committal comment about it being important not to run out of your medication. I expected the conversation to end there – but it did not.
“It’s too hot” she said and I had to agree. “It’s not hot where my daughter is” she continued. At this point it was clear I had been sucked in. “Where’s your daughter” I asked. “Poland” came the reply. “Well it won’t be hot there” I said knowing that people had been dying in the streets because of the cold.
I was clear from her accent that this lady was not Australian born, but I could not place her. So here we were, two strangers in a strange land and the conversation started to flow. “It should be cold at Christmas” she stated and I had to agree. Christmas in summer feels strange – it’s not wrong, but it does feel strange to me. Christmas means late afternoon darkness, cold, the necessity of heating and gloves. Houses lights beaming in the gloom of a December afternoon, these are memories and associations.
“I would like to see one more Christmas in Poland” the old lady added. “Sometimes I miss Poland, but at other times I cannot believe I was there”. This confused me, was she saying that she had been in Australia so long that she could not remember her home land? I noticed she was rolling up her sleeve.
She pointed to a rough set of numbers tattooed on her arm.
“Do you know what these are” she said. “Yes I do” I replied.
“Do you know where I got them” she said. “No” I said “but Auschwitz is in Poland isn’t it?”
“Yes. I was there when I was 21”
“I had my daughter fostered out 2 weeks before they took us away, she was just a baby”
“I got her back when she was six”
“Sometimes I cannot believe what people can do to each other”.
The train arrived; she stood and walked to a door.
“Have a nice Christmas”.
I got up and got on to the train. Did I just dream that?
Sometimes we pay ready attention to see what is going on. But we also need to pay ready attention to the past, so we make sure the things that there happened never happen again.