While doing an email clear out I found this letter I submitted to a newspaper that had a section about random acts of kindness or something like that. I can’t remember now. But I still remember the lovely young man who helped me on one of the biggest days of my life, and I still say thank you when I think of him.
Dear Nice Guy,
You don’t remember me, but I think about you a lot. I know that sounds a bit creepy, so let me explain.
It was October 23, 2007. I had just taken an overnight flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Heathrow. I’d landed around 6 AM then queued up at immigration with a lump in my throat, eyes gritty from exhaustion, and my heart going a mile a minute. I was about to immigrate to England, and I was terrified. As I clutched my passport with its brand new UK Ancestry visa inside I started to think about all the things that could go wrong. Maybe they’d scan it and discover my dear departed grandfather was a horse thief, and I couldn’t come in. Or maybe they’d look at me, pale with terror and sweating and think, we don’t need her here. With each step in the queue I became more and more nervous, like I was Piglet from Winnie the Pooh trying to immigrate. By the time I was called forward I could barely speak. I forget what I was asked, but then the lovely woman said ‘Welcome to the UK’ and I went weak with relief.
I was here. I’d made it. Now, I had to conquer the tube. Armed with a set of directions sent to me by the friend I would be staying with I set off. I remember waiting outside, looking at people going to work, and thinking I could not wait to be a commuter. Then I got on the train, eventually making my way to Clapham Junction. That’s when things got a little dicey. At the airport in Canada my case was so overweight they were going to get me to re-pack. In the end, I simply paid for extra baggage. My suitcase weighed a ton and was the size of a small fridge but by the time I got to Clapham it seemed to have grown in size and now weighed about two tons and was the size of a Ford Mondeo. Rush hour had started, and it seemed like every person in England was walking down the stairs that I needed to go up and I could barely lift my legs, much less the sum total of my life, housed in a black suitcase that looked fit to burst.
As I stood there panic gave way to despair and I thought, ‘What am I doing here? I should be married, have a mortgage, a clear career path, and instead I am starting over in my thirties where I know one person in a country that has crazy train stations (please note, one of the things I love most about England now is its train stations) and I can’t even CARRY MY OWN SUITCASE!’
I stood to the side, feeling like everyone was staring at me, wearing two coats but starting to sweat for entirely different reasons. I was tired, I was alone, I was scared.
And then you appeared. You had on a long black cashmere overcoat and black Buddy Holly style glasses and when you said, ‘Do you need some help with your case, miss?’ I thought it was the most beautiful question I’d ever been asked, and that includes two marriage proposals.
At first, I admit, I was kind of stunned. And a bit confused. I’m still not great with accents, but back then I was hopeless. If you’d been from Glasgow I’d probably still be standing at Clapham.
‘Yes, please, thanks, wow,’ I gushed, as you carried my case up the stairs, and pointed out where I needed to go.
I know I thanked you profusely, perhaps ridiculously, but you had no way of knowing what your simple act of kindness did for me that morning. No way of knowing that I’d lost my father to Parkinson’s, had been doing contract work and was in debt up to my eyeballs when I decided I needed to start over in a huge, epic fashion. I felt like the weight of the world was both on my shoulders and in my hands. And I felt invisible. That changed when you saw me struggling, perhaps giving up, and stepped in to help.
It was a long time ago but I think of you often, when I’ m at train stations, when I’m travelling and whenever men step in to help with my bag, which seems to happen a lot even though I pack much better now. I thought of you when I landed the job of my dreams, and sometimes when I walk along the Thames, marvelling that I get to call this country home.
I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I will never forget you. Thank you.
The Owner of the Big Suitcase.