Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Holding On

"At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities."
-Jean Houston

Appropriately, Spouse found a map of the world when we browsed for books in India: brightly illustrated, roughly three feet in width when rolled up, depicting all our favourite places and destinations yet unexplored. It would be a suitable memento of our visit to another continent.
Due to the awkward size we were forced to carry it as hand luggage when we passed through the airport on our return journey. Security officials stiffened slightly whenever they caught sight of our burden, and, perhaps a first for world maps, it earned its very own luggage tag.
Heathrow Airport, being the centre of all chaos, is enormously difficult to navigate and one must take a series of crowded shuttle trains to get to the gate of departure on time.
We did just that, squeezing onto a carriage, grasping a pole with our free hands and struggling to stay upright despite the weight of our backpacks and the motion of the train threatening to send us both toppling.
An elderly couple stepped between the automatic doors. Searching desperately for seats, they found none, and searching for a body-sized bit of space, they found a corner next to us.
The fellow reached out his hand as the shuttle gave a fierce jolt, and he made a grasp for the safety of a pole.
Inches from it his arm seized up, his face turned the colour of beetroot and he turned to his wife, muttering something which caused her to turn the same shade.
I silently hoped, because I was unable to contain my own hysterical laughter for a moment longer, that he would find the lighter side of the matter. How dreadful if I were the only one laughing.
Mercifully his nature was that of a man who appreciates a joke.
"I am sorry," he turned to Spouse, his German accent thick and heavy, his words careful and slow and humble, his throat filled with the music of laughter.
He said, with surprising honesty, "I was trying to reach for you, I was going to hold your map!"
That action would have done nobody the least bit of good: I was clutching Spouse, who was in possession of the rolled-up map, and if the fellow had indeed grabbed the map, his own wife having firm hold of him, we would all have tumbled to the floor, the world map jutting gaily out of the heap of arms and legs and backpacks.
Minutes later Spouse and I were out of the train and on a moving stairway, the figures of the little German couple dwindling behind us. Despite the increasing distance their amusement was still in evidence, for they beamed at us whenever we turned around, a hint of bashfulness underneath the gentleman's high spirits.
At last we and our troublesome, duplicitous map faded out of their sight; but I would wager that the curious matter of the map-pole left an indelible mark on the remainder of their journey.

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