Forty-six years old, I sat on the bus, on the seat over from a Japanese student, and watched. How did I know she was a student? She had that eager, industrious look, clean, new clothes, the uplifted face earnestly checking. She had her dark backpack, neatly pulled and knotted tight, buckled down and held under her arm. And she looked about nineteen, though her smooth skin and elegant lines would stay with her for decades. Her dark, shiny hair was loose, streaming smoothly over her shoulders and down her back. I remembered portraits of maidens, their heads uncovered.

The student had a palm pad that she glanced at, that she poked, looking for ideas, directions. Finding something, she turned it off and threw it carelessly into a net pocket at the front of her rucksack. It had no cover, and I feared the screen might get scratched or smashed, but she had no such apprehensions. I could see it was covered in smudges and finger marks, a much-used appliance.

Then she gently opened the top of her satchel and from its depths retrieved a cloth bag, also corded tight at the neck, from within which she retrieved a parcel in fabric folds. Slowly, she unwrapped a book, moving the page divider to read the words of her new purchase carefully. She was just at the start of a tome, something like “Sophie’s World” or “The English Patient”, I supposed. I didn’t catch the title, but from the reverent turning of the pages, I could tell that the girl loved her discoveries, inching her finger down each page as she read. She cherished her books, and treated this one with a thoughtfulness that would not have been amiss in a fifteenth century household.

I watched this sign of the generation gap, pleased that the girl loved books, puzzled that she should treat her electronic appliance so carelessly. I wondered what she could teach me, as she was learning to read English and navigate her way around a cold, foreign city.

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