Why do I get myself into odd fixes? I wish I could tell you, but things happen to me even when I try actively to avoid them.
I was on the train this evening, reading a rather good book (The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman – I recommend it), when we stopped at a station. Nothing unusual in that, of course, nor was there anything unusual in the people getting on and off … for the most part.
I glanced up just as an older lady got on, pulling two large suitcases behind her with some difficulty. My usual grumpy acerbicity momentarily lapsed, and I stood to offer her a hand. I was only momentarily phased when I noticed both suitcases were not only covered in lurid green and pink leopard print designs – well, it’s not to my tastes, but I sometimes wear a bright blue t-shirt with a ref hat, sho who am I to judge? – but were also wrapped very tightly in cling film. The entire cases.
I quickly covered my surprise with an offer to help her sort her cases out, and she cast a sharp eye on me – although, it must be said, she was very pleasant in tone throughout the entire, brief exchange.
“I’m fine, young man, thank you.” (I’m 37, and have worry lines on top of worry lines – I haven’t been a “young man” for years)
“Are you sure? I’m happy to help you put those cases where you want them.”
“No, thank you. You haven’t been disinfected.”
I was temporarily struck dumb at this point – which is a fairly odd state of affairs, to be fair – and my surprise must have shown on my face, as the lady added;
“Are you one of them?”
“One of who?” I couldn’t help but ask, and immediately regretted it – I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer, but the question was out there now; there was nothing I could do about it.
“Them,” she insisted. “Maybe you’re not, though; I don’t think you’re that good an actor.”
Very accurate – I’m most certainly not. I wanted to act briefly when I was young, but soon realised how stressed the script-learning was making me. I haven’t got a good memory at the best of times.
But I disgress. The woman looked me up and down, seemed – I felt – to come to the conclusion that I wasn’t one of them, and then trundled down the aisle with her two heavy suitcases. I still would have helped her if she had wanted to – and if I had been disinfected.
As I got off the train a few stops later – I’d almost missed it, truth be truth; I was at a particularly good bit in the book – a movement in my peripheral vision caught my eye as I walked along the platform past the carriage. The lady was waving frantically at me, a seemingly genuine smile on her. So I did the only thing I felt I could do in that circumstance; I smiled back and waved to her. I felt a strange sense of contentment that she seemed comfortable with me, despite her earlier suspicions. I half-wanted to offer her help again with her luggage, but it didn’t seem worthwhile – I still wasn’t disinfected. So I left her to her day; I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for her, in case I bump into her again.