I saw her again, the elder lady in her seventies, who was sitting in the corner of the blue fabric sofa outside the library. She was reading a newspaper, all her attention was paid to the front page it seemed, she didn’t turn the page. A half-empty lunch box was placed just beside her, she had already finished her coffee.
I walked towards her slowly so that I wouldn’t appear intrusive. She lifted her head gently. No sense of surprise. Our eyes met, I smiled to her, and she to me. I sat on the floor, looking up to her face. Her grey hair was done in a loose bun. She smiled again.
Her appearance at the campus was quite noticeable, she looked so different from what was expected to be seen at an university. She walked slowly, having her back bent forward to such an extent that her head always faced the ground. A flaw in her body prevented her from straightening her back.
On that dark snowy evening, I saw her standing on the platform of the university underground station, waiting for the tube to come. Her hair flying, the weight of the bags and the umbrella she was carrying made it hard for her to stand steadily. Her back bending forward, her head hanging slightly, it all made her look fragile, as if she would easily get flown away. She was alone, as always. When the tube approached the station, she lifted her head with her back still bending forward, and walked in slowly. She had a story to tell, didn’t she?
“I’ve seen you a few times, are you a student here?” I asked her.
Oh yes she said she was. She was studying English here, not for teaching purpose surely. She was eager to improve her knowledge of English so that she would be able to read the articles on Internet. “There are a lot of interesting English publications out there”, she said.
She talked about politics, religion and the treatment of immigrants. She was a regular churchgoer.
The quote “It is never too late to learn” isn’t unfamiliar with me, but I think I have acquired a deeper understanding of it, through her. Beneath the fragile appearance lies her soul, as strong as those pine trees standing high in the wind and snow. Growing.
(Pictures taken at University of Oslo, Norway)