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I was sitting in the rail station waiting for the 10:30 to London when a mother with two small children sat beside me, her daughter wedged between us. The girl was maybe ten years old with piercing blue eyes she now pierced at me. I glanced away and with my peripherals noted her stare had deepened. Not your museum look where you see a mummy and wonder about the mysteries of human beings, somewhat awe-struck and half-scared. Not your “look, Mum, there’s a lady on the other side of the platform” observation, idly noting the presence of another across the divide of the tracks.
No, this was fierce, like she had never seen the likes of me before and she was not sure what to make of it but whatever it was, deep down she didn’t like it. No, not a cute puppy or a baby panda. Something undefined, still untold but not alongside Christmas morning expectations, heart-thumping, finger-lightning unwrapping, but more like uncharted territory, terra incognita, what’s this, is this going to hurt me? and if it is, can I fight it, make myself big, wave my arms about?
This staring had lasted for about five minutes while I was debating whether I should stare back, speak up and say “staring’s rude” or “whatcha starin’ at?” or “yuh lookin’ at me?” and may then have to deal with the mother, harassed as she was with the fussy smaller son. Or maybe just stare back, say nothing, and see how she liked that, but that seemed to go down to her ten-year-old level; on the other hand, if I didn’t she would continue to do this at seventeen, at thirty, at fifty-three, at sixty-nine . . . Should I teach her a lesson now and straighten her out?
Bugger all. I had been through this forty years ago in Canada. I couldn’t believe it was happening again.
Lakshmi Gill is a poet and educator who has published extensively in Canadian and world literature. She was one of the two women poets (along with Dorothy Livesay) who founded the League of Canadian Poets in 1966.. A Punjabi/Spanish-Filipina writer, Lakshmi lives in Delta British Columbia, and she is a current member of The Writers’ Union of Canada.