I was yawning between pages of War and Peace. The train’s rumble of metal on metal was soothing after three hours.
As we had moved from city to city, passengers had changed so often that they became a blur of faceless humanity. Across the compartment, someone took a seat facing me, another faceless being. I yawned again.
But then I smelled him. Cigarette smoke. I tried not to wrinkle my nose as I looked at him. Our eyes met. He blinked, and I looked away.
When I had started the trip, I had spent time in prayer. God, I want to listen to Your voice today. Several times, women had sat down next to me, but most had avoided eye contact. All I had given or received was a smile or maybe a greeting. But now it was a man. I didn’t talk to men unless I had a reason.
Remember the woman at the well? Who talked to her? Was it a man or a woman?
But I can’t talk to him. And my Arabic is horrid. Besides, I will only get myself into trouble… Fine. Okay, but You have to make Your timing really clear.
More than an hour later, he stood up–was he leaving? No, he took the empty seat next to me. I continued to skim through a dry chapter of War and Peace.
Now? But what if I heard You wrong?
Then he stood again. “Can you save my seat for me?” he asked in perfect English.
Wait, he speaks English?
It was only a few minutes before he drifted back to his reserved seat, bringing along a cloud of cigarette smoke. This time I did wrinkle my nose. “You’re killing yourself, you know?”
He turned to me. “Do you believe in destiny?” His voice was low and gentle.
A subconscious understanding of where the conversation was headed triggered words that I didn’t hear until they had sprung from my lips: “Are you a fatalist?”
From there, our conversation careened down a different path than he had intended. But it was exactly the path that God had intended.
I doubt I will ever see him again. But it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am learning to listen to God’s voice.