I’ve long held the belief that when you want something badly enough, the whole universe conspires to make it happen – and never more so than when you’re travelling. My entire solo trip across South America seemed to be a happy chain of conspiracies – including when I awoke on an epic Bolivian bus journey to hear a man saying that actual phrase.
But a couple of weeks ago, there was a twist. I wasn’t the one “wanting” – I was the “thing” that happened. It was the perfect encounter.
I was on my way to Ghana, my first bit of solo travelling in a while, and I was excited about what the universe would have in store for me this time. There’s always something… My first flight took me from London to Casablanca, and I found myself sitting next to a glamorous African lady, who tapped away on her phone with long, manicured nails. After we’d eaten, I decided I may as well pass the time by chatting with her. Casablanca appeared to be something of an African flight hub – there were people on this plane from across the continent, it seemed, and I was curious to know more about at least one of them.
“Where are you from?” I asked, and she said “Cameroon.”
This made me smile – my last job at work that morning, the last thing I’d emailed off before rolling my suitcase out of the door – was a guide to Cameroon. It meant I could ask her which part she would from – I now had a basic grasp of the geography and main cities that would have meant nothing to me a couple of days before.
I turned out she was from Douala, but she lived in the UK – and was returning home for Christmas for the first time in several years. We chatted a little about Cameroon – and I explained that I knew a little about the country as I was a writer – and that had been my most recent piece.
We sat silently for a while, me engrossed in my book, and then she looked at me, thoughtfully.
“Do you know,” she began, “if you have a story, can you just contact a writer and ask them to write it?”
I looked at her, trying to understand what she meant.
“It’s just that – I have a story. A big story. And I need to tell it.”
The whole universe conspires…
“I guess so,” I replied, “I’m sure if you have a story you could find someone to write it.”
She continued. “You see, English isn’t my first language – I need a writer. But my story is big. I was in Cameroon – but I left 16 years ago, when my son – he was just six months old. And I was in Nigeria, then Morocco, and Spain – even in Spain! Oh it’s a big story…” she seemed lost in it.
Time passed, I read, she fumbled with her numerous oversized handbags. I went to the bathroom to stretch my legs – but I knew what I had to do. As I eased back down into my seat, I said “Do you have an email address?”
The lady jumped into action immediately, as if she had been waiting for me to ask. “Yes!” she said, rummaging in one of her huge bags, and pulling out a diary. I scrambled around in my backpack for a pen. She handed me the diary, opened on a half empty page, and asked for my email address too. I began to write.
“Your name is Vicki?” she said, incredulously, peering as I wrote.
“Yes…” I said, but I already knew what was coming next.
… to make things happen…
“Victorine – my name is Victorine – but they call me Vicki!” she jabbed at the page with her finger, and for the first time, I noticed that above where I was writing was a scrawled email address, ‘victorine…’
I was laughing, and Vicki was gazing skywards, through the plane’s roof, up into the heavens. She looked astounded, and was muttering “it’s divine! Divine!”
I was her gift, and the universe had sat me next to her, two Vickis on their way to Africa – one a writer looking for a story, the other with a story to tell.
As we hauled our belongings off the plane in Casablanca, I said goodbye and Vicki said “I will call you! I will write!” For her, this was no coincidence.
I don’t know if Vicki will email me, if she’ll forget, if she’s shy, if that initial burst of heavenly enlightenment will fade – but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. She fired up the spark at the beginning of my trip to Africa – and she’s already given me a big story.