As I sat on a hard bench waiting for a train in Portland’s Union Station and my attention drifted to the ornate ceiling and arched doorways carved from marble, a woman came up to me. She was in her late 50’s, reddish brown ringlets framed her face. She spoke with an unfamiliar accent and asked if I would watch her bags so she could go get something to eat from the gift shop. I, of course, said yes. It struck me how funny that simple act can be, to size up a total stranger and decide that they, me, among the crowd, could be trusted to watch over one’s luggage.
She came back quickly with a soda and snack and sat beside me. She also must have deemed me trustworthy enough to tell me her story. It spilled from her lips, full of anxiety and hope. Her name was Lily. She was on her way to the small town of Stanwood, just north of Seattle, to spend the weekend with a man she hoped would become her husband. She was originally from Romania. She’d emigrated to this country decades ago and made a home in the United States. She’d been married once and had suffered a terrible divorce five years ago. Now, she was about to board a train to meet a man who was a mutual acquaintance, someone she’d met years before, and had recently spent hours on the phone with in an attempt to blossom a new relationship.
We boarded the train. She sat three rows behind me, yet I could still feel her nervous energy.
In the dining car, Lily and I sat together again. She was a strict Catholic and was concerned that this new man would want a physical relationship with her upon her arrival. She said she’d told him she’d need her own room. A friend of hers had entered into a physical relationship with a man she wasn’t married to, and the guilt, Lily said, was too much to bear. No, they would stay in separate rooms. That was a rule she’d obey. She trusted he’d honor this stipulation.
The train rolled over the Oregon line, up the coast along the Puget Sound. Sun sparkled on the water. With each stop, Lily grew more animated. How far? She’d ask me. How far to the Stanwood Station where she’d meet him?
Finally, we approached her destination. Five miles out, she stood from her seat and gathered her bags. The air crackled with anticipation.
The train rolled to a stop at Stanwood. I watched Lily straighten her spine, her resolve to create a new life for herself so strong, it radiated out in every direction. She walked past my seat and I wished her good luck. She smiled, a face full of courage and joy. Lily decided to trust me, and to trust the man in Stanwood. It took every ounce of determination she could muster. She carried her bags down the steps of the train and walked into a whole new world.
I craned my neck out of the window to see Lily greet her would-be husband. I couldn’t see them. The train was too long, the station too far behind me.
It’s been weeks now and I wonder what happened. Did she meet the man of her dreams? Will they marry? Will she find happiness?
Knowing Lily, I trust that she did.