I booked a hotel in Paddington Basin recently.
I came out of Paddington Station and looked it up on Google maps.
An hour later it took me back to Paddington. A Jamaican man saw me struggling and said: “You lost, Bro?”
He said he lived in the area and would pass my hotel. It was a slow walk as he carried a bad leg. I wish it had been even slower.
It turned out he was married to an Irishwoman and we explored that, then swapped stories of grandchildren. He complimented me on my age. “You look good, Bro, could be an honorary Black. Blacks don’t crack.”
He meant black faces don’t get wrinkled like white faces as they age. Every face on the Tube confirmed his statement. We moved on to the Caribbean and politics, Jamaica and then St Lucia.
I said I’d been there looking up places where the poet, Derek Walcott, based his poems. He quoted one of Walcott’s poems and we were off, two old boys quoting lines to each other. I’m really sorry I didn’t get his email or phone. I’ll get lost again next time I’m in Paddington.
It was like that over the days: a woman in a lift anxious because she was meeting friends after thirty years, a university student on the Tube spoke about a bullying incident and took some advice, a guy in the British Library with a breaking marriage had no solution. Strangers with stories are a poet’s harvest.
Here are a few lines from Walcott:
The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.