She clutches a shabby cotton bag containing two bananas, an onion and some leafy greens. A dusty pink fleece keeps out the cold air and a hand-knitted purple hat warms her. She had forgotten how cold it could be in England in March. She peers at the British Gas envelope, on the back of which are written in careful Devnagri script interspersed with occasional English word, the directions to her friend’s house. She is glad she left home early so that she could come to Lewisham Market for her food shopping. Now she just needs to find a 119 bus that will take her to West Croydon. Her friend will meet her there at 10.30 and they will go together to see her friend of over 40 years who now lives in Sutton. If only she could see the 119 bus. It has to be here somewhere. It isn’t. This can’t be right. She wrote down the instructions and everything. Maybe she misheard over the phone. Her hearing is rubbish. She is so stupid. How is she ever going to get there on time if she can’t find the 119 bus?
She flies into a panic, which she will not remember later. She screams at passers-by for help, literally bewildered. Why will no-one help her? The 119 bus. It has to be here somewhere. Someone eventually stops and talks to her kindly. A young man. African, but polite. He can take her to West Croydon.
The Young Man:
Is on his way back from a nightshift and has stopped off in Lewisham. He comes across the tiny, elderly, Indian lady screaming in panic. What is she saying? Something about having to get to Croydon. She is alone and vulnerable. Maybe this old woman in a shabby sari is someone’s granny. He thinks of his granny in Jamaica. He wouldn’t want to see her in this state, alone, confused, screaming and panicking. He is tired but, OK, he’ll take her to West Croydon. It won’t take that long. Call it his good deed for the day.
Well, M was supposed to be here at West Croydon station. It’s 10.30, well, more or less. She isn’t here. Her husband never even let her have a telephone, you know, when he was alive. When he died, she and her beloved late husband sorted out all his funeral arrangements. What thanks did they get?
What to do now? How will she manage to get to see her friend in Sutton on her own? She has known this woman for over 40 years. They met on the train on their way to a community gathering. The friend had just arrived from India with her baby son and they spoke her language. What a stroke of luck and they have been friends ever since! The others don’t seem to want her around anymore, but this friend always rings her to say hello and today she’s invited her over. How lovely to go and see someone and talk in their language! And she has given her directions and everything!
Hears her entry phone bell ring. It is 10.45, surely that’s too soon for her two friends to be here? She knows S always arrives far too early before she’s changed into clean clothes after cooking. This gets on her nerves, but today S is coming with M, and they can’t have made it here in 15 minutes, surely? She opens her door onto the landing. But who is this coming up the stairs? S and a young black man. A BLACK MAN! Panic and fear rise in her throat. After the riots, they were told not to open the door to people they didn’t know. It’s so frightening nowadays. Older people have to stay indoors to stay safe. Worse, S now says to the young man, “You have been so kind. Stay and have a cup of tea with me.” Oh no! She’s inviting this young black man into her flat! He could be anyone. He could knock them out with one swipe of his hand and then murder them and take all her things. Still, he seems quite polite. And she can’t let him know what she’s thinking. That would be rude and it would make her feel bad.
Is relieved that she found someone to bring her all the way from Sutton. Well, people are nice aren’t they? Even some of these Africans.
The Young Man:
Well, what else could he have done? Leave her there, this little old lady, frightened and panicking and shouting like that? He would hate it if his granny found herself in that situation. Only he’s come all the way to Sutton, and she chattered to him and everyone else on the bus all the way there. Some things again and again. Round and round she went. About how she went to India and no-one wanted her to come and see them. And how her daughter speaks better Chinese than the Chinese themselves. Hm. And now he’s got to get back home somehow and grab a couple of hours’ sleep before it’s work again. But he did a good thing today. The Right thing. His mum would be proud.
Well, he was nice, but it could have been anyone. She put us all in danger, as well as herself. Better not invite her here again. Who knows what could happen? It’s a pity, but we’ll just have to go and visit her next time. I’ll tell everyone what happened, not that they ever invite her over now anyway. Well, you know what she’s like.
I don’t know what all the fuss was about! I got here, didn’t I? And he was so nice! Some of these Africans can be, you know. I don’t know why she’s lecturing me, maybe her memory isn’t as good as it was. How will she like it when she needs some help? It’s OK for her, she has her husband here. But still, I’d better not say anything to my daughter. I’m frightened that she will shout at me. Best keep quiet about it.
MsAlliance would like to thank the kind stranger from the bottom of her heart for looking after her mum. I hope you get to read this. Please, if you know this kind person, give him a hug from me. Thank you. x