I heard her before I saw her, a young woman asking the bus driver
for a location he didn’t recognise. I put my hand on her arm and said “Come with me, I’ll show you.” It was a short walk and we talked all the way. She said “Isn’t the weather dreadful ?” (stair rods) and I said I had seen that the UN had announced that global warming was moving faster than they had anticipated.
She talked about false news on social media and said “But you can’t disagree with them” and I explained how I had gone back to reading the newspapers because television coverage was so stratified and unsatisfactory. She said the pandemic had caused real suffering – she had been unhappy, put on weight, it had unsettled her relationship ( her terms). I said I was sorry, it was inevitable because it isolates us and we don’t know who we can trust. I told her about the story of a US cop and his family adopting a boy
horribly burned by his father, who had already killed his mother and sister. I said “And that’s about as far as you can go … white family, black boy …” She added “And a policeman.” I shrugged “There are always decent people and that’s all that matters.. “ “And there always were , back in the day” she added. I nodded. “Could I have a hug ?” she asked. “Of course you can” I said and there we were,
elderly white woman and young black girl in a laughing embrace in the middle of the street before I put her on the right bus.
Way back when all this unhappiness began – and there are so many things running in parallel with the pandemic, the world is in upheaval and it feels like the End of Days – a woman putting her shopping into her bag at the supermarket remarked (I leave you to imagine the tone) “I suppose this will make some people more thoughtful” – “Well, I don’t know” I said, Lady Bracknell
well to the fore before I could stop myself. “I never needed a pandemic to be polite.”
I realised the other day that I am on the one side turning into a mixture of my mother at her most acidulous, and Queen Victoria, and on the other hand – not unusual for the elderly – I have seized on the manners of my youth which were to greet people, to exchange remarks with them, if possible, share a laugh. You can’t like everybody, nor can you know their trouble. But some sense of companionship is important, with surprisingly long effect. As Covid began to ravish the Indian subcontinent,
I asked a bus driver – was the family OK? He nodded. “I mean the people at home” I said. He looked at me quite differently – and we have greeted each other ever since.
We don’t have to be new best friends, we don’t have to pretend intimacy but we do have to do what dogs do – sniff and wag at every opportunity. It is better for us and better for the other person, it’s the only way we can all fight to the next day, surrounded as we are with doubt and confusion. It costs nothing, it takes little time, you don’t need technology, you can always bale.
It is apparently now cheaper to order online than to go shopping, supplies are marked up for footfall. And I understand that if you lack money, or you have a family, or you’re trying to do several things at once, you will order on line. I – alone and responsible for nobody but me – will continue – masked on the bus and in the shop – to walk, talk, greet, choose for myself, walk some more, carry it home -just as I have done all the way through this. I am not going to sit at home becoming a “mental health issue” because I have no exercise, no spontaneous social contact, no air. And I don’t know one single person among my small and cherished group of friends who hasn’t made certain personal decisions about how to respond – and we differ, not much, but a bit.