strangers show up when you least expect them. they arrive wrapped in promise and stories. i come from a place where the stranger was a subject of intense observation and welcomed delight. the people in my village loved the arrival of a stranger. we had memorised the shape of our own faces and could recite all our tales. when someone strange arrived either by land or sea the whole community rushed to the wonder.
i imagine that is where my lack of fear of the unknown comes from. when i see a stranger my heart beats fast with the knowledge that i may hear a story. how can you not trust someone you've never met. it is my experience, it is the ones you hold close that cause the most harm.
and so they came.........
when i was quite young a japanese man stayed in our home. he had come from his country to study the mackerel or herring - i don't remember which. he stayed with my mother and i. my mother was a widow and so i'm sure any stipend he offered was appreciated. i loved him. i talked his ear off. his english was about as lovely as my japanese. he brought excellent gifts of fans and small dolls. when he went fishing with the men he wore my deceased father's rubber boots and fishing gear. some may say that set the tone for me - a stranger from another land looking sweetly familiar - like a memory from a happier time. maybe that's the moment i feel in love with strangers.
young men would appear out of seemingly, thin air. the men were bearded with backpacks. they were running from war and choose to hide in the thick spruce on our shores. they built dodgy shelters and did odd jobs. my friends and i would stand in the bush and watch their doings. still and silent like wooden totems, we watched unseen as they ranted aloud about the government and smoked those, as my mother said, "funny cigarettes." most of them would last the summer and fall but when the wind started to blow from the nor'east and the ice and snow came they rethought their principles and moved on.
on rare occasions strangers arrived by water. an unfamiliar boat would sail into the harbour. i can tell you that was a time of quick, excited action. women whipped off their aprons and men ran their fingers through their hair. we were like people heading for a show. one such time a sailboat limped into our little port in need of engine repairs. word went round and i raced to the wharf to be first to greet them. my friend was with me, the pretty one who could sing, she and i rushed to usher the woman and children ashore. the men surround the stranger. the flag on the masthead was swedish and so was much of what they spoke.. my friend and i steered the woman and her children towards the beach. this little family was going to be my prize. i would convince her to come to my house for some tea and a slice of cake. i stood slightly in front of my friend to make it clear i was obvious choice. the woman took some clothes out of a ditty bag and said they wanted to change out of their bathing suits. i was just about to suggest they did that at my house - when they all stripped off their suits and stood stippy stark naked on the sand. i will admit to be slightly taken aback, but quickly recovered. my friend, a good girl, clutched her freshly ironed shirted and started to cry. she wrung her hands, turned and began running down the beach, wailing her head off. i turned and thought, "well there goes the competition." i was not accustomed to naked foreigners but manners suggested i wait patiently for them to dress. "this way," i said and then lead then through the path to my house. my mother, like every other woman in the village, would have already boiled the kettle. she was in fact probably already slicing the cake - because in these situations it was an asset to have have a child, who as my uncles would say "could talk the paint off the boat" the little family stayed in our village for a week but sadly they did not sleep at my house, as it turns out they preferred showers to baths and my house didn't have one. i feel that this was condition i couldn't have foreseen so i didn't take to heart.
so when i see a stranger i feel no sense of apprehension, no fear, i just see someone i haven't met. but anyway, why lead with fear - these strangers may carry with them the kindness you seek and the stories you have not yet heard.......