Surprise is the greatest gift life can grant us. ~Boris Pasternak
Yep, it took me by surprise. As we waited to check in at the international counter, I noticed an elderly woman quite a bit ahead of me. She was the spitting image of Viola. A Chinese Viola. In a light blue sweater.
Traveling with her family, she seemed to pay no attention to me. But I watched her. The wrinkles, the small glasses, the whitish hair still with a touch of darkness in places.
And those eyes. Viola’s eyes, surrounded by crinkles.
I was so taken with her that I pointed her out to my eldest. Saying, “look at her,” and pointing towards the light-blue-clad elder, I explained that she looked like my grandmother. The one whose elementary-school diploma hangs on our kitchen wall. There was an other-worldly calm about her, and I felt it.
And then there was the lengthy delay. The panini, the $8 airport bottled water. People magazine. Checking Facebook and playing solitaire on the iPads that were conveniently stationed and wisely bolted to every bench and table.
As we slowly inched closer to our revised departure time, the girls took a walk. So there I was, playing solitaire at a high-stooled bench.
And then, there she was.
Standing at my left elbow, without any introduction or reserve, my little old lady had come to pay a visit. She seemed to appear out of nowhere. I hadn’t noticed her. I wasn’t even sitting at the correct gate for our flight. And, yet.
There she was.
Watching me intently, she seemed intrigued by my moves. I smiled. She came closer, reinforcing the lesson that in Chinese culture there’s no such thing as personal space. She watched as I tapped the screen. Her face seemed puzzled. I pointed. She pointed back. We seemed able to agree that aces were ones.
Yī, she questioned? Yī, I nodded.
And then red 9 on a black 10. She said jiao and sí, the Mandarin words for 9 and 10.
She continued to watch. Then all of a sudden it was she who was tapping the screen. Deliberate in her shaky pointer-finger way, she began moving jacks onto queens, sevens onto eights, murmuring the numbers in Mandarin.
And then she won. She patted my arm. Her eyes twinkled. It was enough.