The Stranger in the Hall

When my mother was 13 years old, she was attending a Buddhist prayer chanting session with her parents at her local temple. The priests carry out the chanting while the patrons listen. It was around 1AM and these sessions last well into the morning with attendees strewn about the hall and near the two opposite exits, many half-asleep.

Ordinarily, even in those times, young girls weren’t sent alone anywhere let alone in the wee hours of the morning, but this was a simpler time and she was in a community where everyone practically knew everyone else. So there was little concern when she was sent back home, just down the street, to bring something back. It was a blanket, she believes.

She was out of the temple gates and walking past a street light and a willow tree that she had passed countless times before, when she saw between the willow and the parapet wall of the neighboring house, a woman standing barefoot on the grass.  It wasn’t unusual for people to be without footwear those days, especially in Sri Lanka, even at night.

The woman looked to be in her 30s or 40s wearing a beige or off-white dress with an unremarkable yet very tired looking face which she didn’t recognize.

Odd, she thought to herself, as she imagined the whole village was either asleep in their homes or at the temple. But as not to waste time, she elected not to dwell on woman’s motives and hurried home.

On her way back, she passed the same willow and street light and found the woman had gone. Possibly to bed.

Thinking nothing of it, she walked back through the gates of the temple and went up the stairs to the hall and back to her spot with her parents and continued listening.  She turned around at one point and found the tired looking woman among the attendees sitting a few yards behind. My mother could have sworn she didn’t see anyone else enter the hall from the opposite exit or come up the stairs behind her.

The chanting continued.

In front of the strange woman was a toddler who was writhing about as toddlers often do and his mother was right next to him already fast asleep. The strange woman drew closer to the toddler. At first she only looked at him and then, quietly, lifted him and placed him on her lap. Still, my mother thought nothing of this.

But this was all it seemed everyone else needed to take note of the toddler and the strange woman. The chanting stopped and a soft murmur went about the hall and my mother was confused. In the company of so many people in a close community, it wasn’t unusual for strangers to pick up other people’s children back then either.

The toddler’s mother had now woken up, looked about, then at her son. At this point all color had left the boy’s mother’s face. My mother asked her parents what was happening and all they had was a puzzled look. “Can’t you see? There’s nothing below!”

One of the priests who was participating in the chant called over a gentleman among the attendees. He told him, “there’s someone here who doesn’t belong” and gave him a small container of holy water. The gentleman proceeded to sprinkle holy water all across the hall starting where the strange woman holding the toddler was and then from exit to exit.

My mom looked back at where the strange woman was seated after following the man sprinkling holy water only to discover the woman had gone. There are only two exits to the hall and she didn’t see her walk out of either one. The toddler was in the same position.

Except now he appeared to be in mid-air.

The boy’s mother grabbed the child, and he began writhing as he did before the incident. She quickly hurried near the priests with her child and the chanting resumed.

My mother asked her parents, “what happened to the woman?” Her parents asked…

“What woman?”


This is the story of an “entity” that my mom once encountered when she was a girl living in central Sri Lanka. The family since moved to Colombo, yet the memories of the old village and this encounter in particular were quite strong.

No one else saw anyone entering the hall, except for my mother, or anything strange until the toddler inexplicably started rising above the floor and then began hovering in a prone position a foot above the ground. Apparently the one priest who gave the holy water to one of the attendees, sensed there was an entity present in need of cleansing, but was not a danger anyone.

As for why no one else saw the entity and why only one other person, the priest, sensed that there was even something else there with them? She’s still at a bit of a loss.

According to my mother, she still didn’t understand what happened until after the session and after she was listening in to everyone talk about the event. This entity, which was evidently not malevolent, had followed her to the temple and entered the hall during a part of the chant that specifically gave merits to those who have passed away and in need of guidance.

None of the people my mother had spoken to afterwards recognized the woman based on her description, but everyone agreed that she was probably a mother.

It’s not in my nature to believe stories like this, but I’ve always found them intriguing enough to share. After all, who doesn’t like to hear good a ghost story on the weekend.

I was prompted to share this after reading Kelly’s post on perceptions.


Strangers on a Shuttle

There are some people who frequent the subway shuttle between Grand Central and Time Square in New York City and I see them on my way home from work almost every day. Most of them are on the first or last car, as the shuttle only has two destinations, people tend to go to the one on the farthest end to make the dash to catch the next connection that much quicker.

Here are a few that I see the most…

The Veteran

Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, my name is Razel…

I hope I got his name right. This is a man who claims to be a Vietnam veteran helping the homeless. Razel adds that he was in the same situation not too long ago and intends to give back to the community.

Razel who is 6′-6’2″, black, slim and sports a goatee, carries sandwiches, soap and toothpaste for the homeless and requests donations to keep the supply for them.

As a parting note, he routinely adds “a smile won’t cost anything”, probably referring to the frumpy look from most people since this is New York after all.

Carleen Williams

I’ve seen her a lot of days recently after, perhaps, a brief hiatus lasting a month or so. Or it may be that she was on a different car or may have been taking a break at the time.

I don’t remember exactly when I first saw her, but it may have been at least as far back as last Spring. She claims to be a widow raising two children and in desperate need of financial assistance. The introduction is virtually identical every time I’ve seen her and it consists of her name and dilemma.

Carleen (or is it spelled Karleen?) is around 5′-5’2″, white, medium build and rather neatly dressed. She also used offer her resume to anyone as well, although nowadays she seems to have stopped this altogether.

She says “God bless you” a rather lot and I don’t believe the fervor for the divine was this intense when I first saw her. “Please have a heart” is another common exclamation and I recall one day a man wryly replying “sorry, I lost mine on 9/11” although I don’t believe she heard this.

This post isn’t by any means an attempt to put a negative light on someone who may legitimately need assistance, and I don’t know if she’s really in dire straights or just a creative hustler. But considering there may be children involved I’m curious if anyone knows Carleen and what exactly happened to her family.

The Jesus singer

There’s another man aboard the shuttle I see often, a busker, who plays one string on a six string guitar (rather poorly at that) and whose repertoire consists of “Jesus is blessing me right now…”.

He’s around 5’10”, -5’11”, black, medium build and rather soft-spoken. The man has no elaborate story and often wears a baseball cap in which he also collects money.

He seems to be genuinely aware that his performance isn’t spectacular and the song may be more for self-comfort than anything. Unlike the others, he doesn’t give a name and has no introduction; he just starts playing as the shuttle starts moving.

Although it seems I’ve learned to almost completely tune out these people into the background noise, I think there are times where I’m sufficiently distracted from my own life to just be fascinated enough to absorb the soliloquies once again.