I have a weakness for little old ladies...
I was walking home from college one evening. That was not something that I did very often. but the bus strike left me little choice that day. By the time I got to Ballsbridge, I had been on my feet for almost an hour and the pain in my lower legs was settling in for the night. I did not normally get tired when walking long distances like this, as the actual physical exertion per step was minimal, compared to the cycling I did most weekends, but the repetition did cause some pain in the soles of my feet. I was lucky that I had worn my old runners that day rather than the new pair I had bought at the weekend, as my feet were accustomed to them and they had been molded through wear and tear to the shape of my feet, so there would be no chafing. The strap of my book-filled bag was cutting into my shoulder, despite having shifted it several times to avoid getting a welt.
As I crossed the road from the motor dealers to the bridge across the Dodder, having just passed the American Embassy, I first noticed the old lady, standing at the roadside with her little shopping cart at her side. The noise of the passing traffic and my partially catatonic state meant that I didn't notice, until I had almost passed her, that she was calling out to me. I stopped, stepped a little closer to her, then leaned forward a little. Only then could I hear her meek, refined voice.
She informed me that she was on her way to the post office, which was about a hundred yards away, to collect her pension. The problem she faced was crossing the road - six lanes of rush hour traffic were showing her no mercy. She asked if I would be good enough to help her get across and to the post office. In the course of explaining her predicament to me, she had placed her hand on my arm, maybe for comfort, maybe as some form of non verbal communication, or maybe just to help her balance and take some of the strain off her tired feet; - from the tone of her explanation I gathered that she too was tired.
Now, I am much too nice a person to brush off a little old lady looking for help. I knew I would never be able to look my own grandmother in the face again if I had failed to assist this little old lady in any way I could. Before I knew it I was standing next to her, facing the road and watching for a gap in the traffic, while she continued to tell me of her daily routine, interspersed with questions about my family, my name, mother's maiden name, and whether or not she was related to the owners of a tobacco shop in the city centre that shared the same name.
I was only half listening to her, trying more to concentrate on the traffic, which showed no sign of letting up. I eventually interrupted her to suggest we cross a different road, which had a pedestrian crossing, and from there cross the main road at the intersection, again with the benefit of traffic lights to stop the traffic for us. She agreed, and we started walking, with me now able to devote more attention to her conversation. In the few minutes it took the lights to change and for me to lead her across, being careful to slow down at the kerbs, we eventually made it across the main road an started down the narrow lane to the post office. When we were about five meters away, a sinking feeling hit me. The sign in front of the post office stated it closed at six p.m., and it gave the appearance of having done so. I surrepticiously glanced at my watch and confirmed my fear. It was five past the hour.
The old lady seemed to been esconsed in watching her footing on the cobbled street, and did not become aware of the closed state of the post office until we were almost in front of it. She stopped, looked up, and interrupted her own monologue with an abrupt "Oh Dear!". A short conversation between us confirmed that we both concurred that the post office was indeed closed, and she resolved the issue by stating "Well I suppose I'll have to come back tomorrow. She looked up at me, and I looked back down the lane from where we had come. I slowly moved around to her other side, smiled, reached for her arm again and said, "Well we'd better get you home again!".
The walk back was, physically, just as slow as the outward journey had been, but something made it seem shorter, quicker. On the way there I had been burdened with the task, the responsibility, of getting this old lady to her destination so that I could continue on my way. But now that burden was lifted from me. In a sense, our efforts had been in vain, we had lost the race to reach the post office in time, we had failed. But that, in a strange way, freed us, allowed us to relax. We were now just two people out for a stroll, with no objective to strive for. I was no longer looking for a break in the traffic, so I could devote my entire attention to the conversation with this old lady. As we made our way back across the road, over the bridge on the Dodder river, we talked of daily life, and of how little she could do now on her meagre pension, now that her husband was gone. I commiserated.
As we reached the crossroads that led down the lane by the banks of the Dodder to the little house where she lived, she thanked me and assured me she would be fine on her own from there on. She tried to offer me fifty pence for my services, but I refused; indeed I thanked her for a lovely conversation and her enjoyable company. I bade her farewell and set off towards home, with a little more spring in my step than I had had before I met her. I was glad that I had helped her to cross that road, because by doing so, she had helped me; by lifting my spirits a little, and by making that journey home a little more interesting than it would otherwise have been.
Copyright (C) 1997-2011 A.Keyes All Rights Reserved.