I was happily ensconced in my own world, reading a historical mystery and enjoying some quality time with myself. She got on at Bloor and made a beeline for me.
"I apologize in advance, but I'm 76 years old and when I see someone reading, I just have to know what book it is."
At first I was annoyed. Oh no, she's one of those, I thought. A talker. Couldn't she see I was absorbed in my book?
Of course she could. That's why she was so curious.
Conscious of the strangers around me, I tried to summarize the somewhat-macabre plot of the book to the elderly woman without drawing attention to us.
"It's about graves being disturbed. The hero and heroine are trying to figure out why someone would do such a thing."
When she started asking follow-up questions about the characters and their methodologies, I took off my sunglasses and let go of my preconceptions. I realized that I had been treating her as if she was bothering me, answering her queries in clipped tones to discourage further conversation.
But she wasn't a public transit nuisance to be ignored; she was a just human being who wanted to interact with another human being. She told me she lived at Mount Pleasant and Eglinton in a six-room house all by herself. She confessed she made a point to get out every single day.
I named her Lillian in my head.
"It's important at my age," she said. "Especially since I'm not married -- yet."
I smiled and told her a little of my story.
"Do you read to your daughter?" she asked suddenly.
"Yes. Every night before bed we read her stories in our bed and then she reads them back to us."
"You're telling me she's two and she does this?"
"Well, she's not really reading, she's just repeating phrases from memory."
"She's a genius. You better get on to MENSA straight away."
I shook my head and laughed at this. Then she pulled out the Albert Einstein:
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
"That makes sense," I said, even though my husband and I had not yet ventured into the fairy tale realm.
"But what is it about fairy tales, specifically?" she asked.
I stumbled for a reply. "I don't know, maybe the morals or lessons they contain?"
She nodded her head and said she'd only had two books growing up. She told me how she frequently went to the library but only checked out as much as she could carry home.
I studied her as she spoke: her face was guileless, her white hair pulled back by a light-blue headband. I wondered at the rest of her story. Did she have a great love? What was her biggest loss? Was this the only real conversation she was going to have today?
We only spent 10 minutes together on a train underground, this old lady and I, but the experience stuck with me as I continued the rest of my journey alone. In the moment, I had felt the universe offering me something with this encounter: a chance to meet someone new, a way to step outside my comfort zone. It was completely up to me whether I closed myself off or opened myself up to the opportunity.
I'm happy I chose the latter.