The clock at the London Tube station struck 11:15 p.m. I chewed on my nails as the station began to get deserted. I could see only the attendant and a few passengers whohurried off the last train. My friend Kev had said he'd pick me up. But I had been waiting 20 minutes.
I dislike waiting at stations. I dislike waiting anywhere. It makes me feel lonely. I shivered, but continued to pace up and down outside the station so Kev wouldn't think I'd left. Then I heard the voice. A voice deep with concern.
"You OK, Princess?"
I felt my shoulders relax within my jacket and my insides warm up like a cup of hot chocolate between cold hands on a shivery day. No one had ever called me Princess.
But this man did. The attendant, a black man in his 50s who had walked out to me, was concerned about my safety.
It didn't matter that he was doing his job. It didn't matter that he said it simply. He could've said "ma'am." He could've said "lady." But the parent inside him chose "princess."
Maybe he didn't mean it with the special love that one would address a daughter. And yet, from deep within my heart - the same place that tells you "Mommy's here now, it's going to be all right" - I think he did.
I stood there and wondered if he had a daughter somewhere who'd been a little girl once, his little princess who sat in his lap, his little princess who'd now grown up and set up a home of her own.
She must've glowed when he called her Princess, just as I did.
Maybe it's because whole generations of little girls who grew up on Snow White and Cinderella learn that a princess is special.
Maybe we also sense that a name other than our formal one, coming from someone we love, means something more - that we are loved so much.
Maybe that's why Tom Sawyer came running when he was called Tom and skulked when his aunt shouted, "Thomas."
Maybe that's why, when she's being tucked into bed, my 3-year-old niece quite plainly tells her mum, "Mama, don't say 'Good night, Simran,' say 'Good night, Bebo.' "
So Bebo it is - or Potato, or Angel, or Piglet. Everyone in the family has a favorite nickname for her.
Yet it doesn't confuse her or seem absurd to her that she has several names. She knows that deep in their hearts, each one of these people has created a special room, a place that no one else can visit but her.
At the station, as the clock ticked away, I smiled at the attendant. "My friend will be here soon. Thank you," was all I said.
"All right then, take care," he said with a smile as he walked away.
I hugged myself happily as I watched him turn into a silhouette in the dim light outside the station.
I smiled at the empty street. The 5-year-old inside me - and the 17-year-old I'd once been and the 30-something I was now - had been granted a gift.
As he disappeared from sight, I wished I'd said more to him, told him how he made me feel. But I turned to Kev's waiting car, comforted by the knowledge that sometime, somewhere, through some law of the universe, someone will make his day as he did mine.