Our day trudged along like an old lady. Our gait mimicked the fatigue of a long winding day as we sauntered into the Himalaya restaurant of Plattsburgh, NY. Just a couple of weeks before we arrived in Plattsburgh, two dangerous fugitives meandering their way up to the Canadian border had been shot, one dead and other caught alive right in our vicinity. With this knowledge fresh in our minds, we slouched in our chairs in the middle of a painstakingly long wait for our Tibetan food. Sigh!
As we waited in our outdoor seats in downtown Plattsburgh, I observed an American restaurant next door. A waitress who wore heavy facial makeup brought two big Beer mugs to the family seated across to us. Perched up with two fat books, a young lady, wearing black slacks, sat alone with an empty plate and empty glass. She had already finished her meal. Hurriedly, she signed the check, got up and marched away. My snoopy gaze followed her out of the restaurant, and found its anchor on three women across the street. The one in the middle, pregnant in her homestretch, was wearing a striped beige and brown dress. She was thrusting a stroller carrying a girl that appeared to be around 4 years old. The young girl lay limp and uninterested in her surroundings. Something about them enraptured my attention and I sat there gawking quite unabashed. Why was I fascinated by them?
Maybe because they represented something innocent my adult life had sacrificed. Center of conversation, the pregnant lady, in the middle of a long theatrical narration, slouched forward and shook her head left and right. The response from her friends was one of deep compassion as they shook their heads acknowledging her tribulation.
As for me? My fascination took a turn, I now gazed in envy. The women had what I ached for, close girlfriends in the same town as me, whom I met every other evening; I emptied my heart full of problems or vice-versa. And, here in Plattsburgh, New York, were three women doing exactly that. In front of my eyes, flashed images of the support they provided each other and specifically to the woman in the center with the baby on the way and another child in the stroller – who seemed most vulnerable of them all. Was I right to judge what I saw?
I was about to find out for myself when the woman in black, pulled out and lit a cigarette, taking big gulps, savoring each inhalation of the black guck. And, now I raged for a whole another reason. I turned to my husband.
“Look at that woman; she is smoking in front of a pregnant friend of hers and her daughter!”
The response of my husband was trenched in philosophy hinged on society, and the marketing campaign of cigarette companies. And, as though there was nothing more wrong with my outside world then I witnessed what was “the more than worst” thing in my opinion.
The smoker in black, hung the hand holding the cigarette on her side, and gazed straight ahead. With that, she quite unassumingly, stretched her hand near the lady with a child. And, to my dismay, expecting lady’s hand reciprocated and seized the cigarette with same sly dexterity. Hesitating, she took the cigarette, put it in her mouth, as her eyes closed in relief and she puffed her own big black one.
Agony! They didn’t linger there longer and started to walk towards the red light. The cigarette had exhausted their conversation. And, very soon they disappeared around the bend of the street with the vulnerable woman guarding the baby inside her womb with a cigarette in her mouth, puffing along the way.
Not believing the transformation of events, I ignored the waiter that brought our food. Was I right now to worry for the strange lady’s unborn child? Was I wrong to judge the quality of their lives by what I saw? Regardless, I learnt a valuable lesson that day as I glanced at my children – never judge a book by its cover – things aren’t as they appear to be. And, I learned a smaller, not so obvious lesson as well-to count the blessings in my life.