It has nothing to do with hooking up or any other kind of sex. It has to do with becoming the closest of friends with a complete stranger for one afternoon, then never seeing him or her again.

One year, about 30 years ago, I was visiting friends in Montreal. I was poor, didn’t have a reliable car, so I took the bus from New York to Montreal. It was a five-hour ride. I figured I’d sleep most of it, but instead, I found myself seated next to an Indian (from India) medical student who was studying medicine at McGill University. He had just been visiting friends in New York and it was time to go back to studying.

He explained that he was on a scholarship from India and the deal was, he would study, become a doctor, then go back to India and do three years of work there to compensate the government. But, he said, he wasn’t going back.

I was surprised. “But you took the money,” I pointed out. “Don’t you feel you owe them something?” He sighed.

“India is so big,” he said. “So poor. There is very little I could do there that would mean anything. But I could do some great work here in Canada. Research work that might save many people and not just for three years. Maybe for a hundred years.”

He then talked about India’s relationship with Great Britain. “Mostly, everyone hates the British, but they gave us one thing for which we will always be grateful.”

I raised both eyebrows (I can’t raise just one, sorry) and looked at him.

“English,” he said. “Before the British, we spoke hundreds of languages. In each valley, they had their own language. Across the nation, we couldn’t talk to each other. Then came the English and suddenly, we could communicate. For that, we are grateful. It may not be our best language, but it the one everyone speaks.”

After that, I passed along all of my current issues including trying to get a Jewish divorce in Israel while living in New York, a process so complicated that even 33 years later, I get a headache thinking about it. Not to mention the nasty piece of work who, for hard-to-fathom reasons, I had married. And children. Mine. His. Ours. As well as the big ocean between us.

Greyhound bus terminal

The two of us never exchanged names. We parted at the bus station in Montreal with no thought of meeting again. We were best friends for an afternoon on a long bus ride between cities. Three decades later, I remember the conversation.

Categories: Anecdote, Friendship, language, Marilyn Armstrong, Transportation, Travel

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8 replies

  1. I didn’t learn to drive until I was well into my 30’s. Nor did then own a car for a long time. Buses were mainly how I got around. You never know who or what you might encounter on a Bus? Sometimes a pleasure … other times … it can be a pain. But it never stopped from getting around.


    • I wish we HAD buses. We don’t. We have no public transportation here, so if you don’t drive, you are at the mercy of “friends” who may or may not feel obliged to fit you into their schedule. Funny that when we moved here, it never occurred to me that public transport was going to be an issue. I didn’t plan on getting old.


  2. Some strangers leave an impact that suddenly swells from the vaults of memory without a warning, making us smile 🙂
    Adding to the conversation, well not everyone in India dislikes the British. They have done a great deal for the nation at the same time. And, pretty much everybody who leaves for higher studies for the American coast never comes back, christened as the Brain Drain theory. Ah well, they are living the American dream.


    • For what it’s worth, the surgeon who repaired my heart was Indian and he was brilliant. I was surprised that the guy on the bus didn’t want to go back, even for those few years. It didn’t seem like an excessive demand all things considered, but I also know when to shut up — and that was one of those times.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, a lot of people choose not to come back. The charm of the American dream has them mystified 🙂
        Yes, there are moments when it is so much better to just listen and shut-up 😀


  3. You’ve shared this before and it is amazing that how we can connect to total strangers when the environment is right.


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