I don’t have a problem with them.
Well, not much of a problem. I’m a tad allergic to them but, in general, I like them. Mostly, they like me.
The people who own them tend to like me too. This is the story of one of them.
I suppose this story is a bit of a misnomer. There is a lady in it, she is crazy and she has a cat but there’s so much more to her than that.
The woman is maybe in her 60s. She could be older, she has seemed to be 60-odd for all of the 20 years I have encountered her on and off. She had, and probably still has, salt and pepper hair scraped tight into a bun that sits atop her head. Also a huge fringe that falls down below her eye-line so she always has to look up through it when she talks.
I have never seen her hair styled any other way.
Her skin is pink and red- wind chapped from the sea and veiny from smoking. I always imagine that she wears black or grey, whenever I think of her.
The first time I met her, I was a waitress in a cafe. I was young. Maybe 13 or 14. It was my first job. I could tell you a whole deal more of this job, but I think the characters from that are for another time.
The lady in question came in every Sunday after a long walk on the beach. Always ordering a cup of tea for herself and a tuna sandwich.
A tuna sandwich for her cat.
Yes, she brought the cat.
Now I know people like to walk cats (I’m not judging), I wouldn’t do it personally. It’s bad enough walking a dog, but cats are a whole other thing entirely.
Cats are, on whole, averse to doing anything their owner wants. Let alone being wrestled into a lead or a harness, then to be forced to go exactly where their human wants them to go.
All seems a bit stressful to me.
Well this lady didn’t do that. She took hers for a walk in a pet carrier. She had one of those caged things you get for taking your pet to the vet and she would lug it to the beach every Sunday.
One particular Sunday, she ordered the usual and I got it for her. She would open the sandwich and hand feed the cat through the bars. Chattering away to her the whole time.
I was supposed to say she couldn’t come in with the cat. One of the owners had told me to tell her that, the other owner did not care. In fact, she welcomed her, cat or no cat, being more concerned with money than hygiene.
Now the cafe I worked in didn’t have many standards. I must have missed the bread that I was using had mould on it and she complained, asking for another one. I apologised and threw the sandwich in the bin, then made a new one.
Except the boss decided I should have scraped the tuna from the mouldy sandwich into the new sandwich.
‘Oh well,’ I said ‘too late now. It’s already in the bin.’
She ran round to the bin and fished (excuse the pun) out the tuna.
Out of the bin.
The bin that had dirt from the floor and ashtray scrapings in it.
Then she popped it on a plate for the next customer.* I still gag at the thought of that sandwich.
The weirdest part of this story is that this is not the weird part.
A few years and a few jobs later, I came across the same customer again. I was working in a petrol station and she came up to the till, there wasn’t anything weird about this interaction. I think she bought a pre-roasted chicken. As she left, I noticed she’d forgotten a plastic bag. I took a peek in the bag. There was a knife.
No. Not a knife.
More of a butcher’s cleaver.
If I’m honest I was a little bit scared.
I told my manager, not sure if this was something to report. He didn’t much care. So I left it with him, hoping that she didn’t come back during my shift.
The next time I saw her was a good few years later, sitting at a bus stop we started to chat. Remembering the cleaver and not sure of what her reason for carrying it around was, I decided it would be best to be extra nice to her. Just in case.
At first we spoke of children. How they’d changed, how their toys had changed and how much more ungrateful they are, compared to her day.
I was wearing a pair of pink flat shoes. Ones with little straps across the ankle. She told me she did ballet as a girl. That her dreams were to be a professional ballerina. How she hurt her foot and she never really recovered. How her mother couldn’t afford to send her to proper classes.
We talked and talked about ballet. She named the different ballet poses and positions. These words must have been just waiting to burst forth from her. Perhaps the way she styles her hair is her daily reminder of what could have been.
Since then, I’ve seen her here and there. I’ve nodded and smiled – but there’s no recognition. Still, I remember that cleaver in a plastic bag and think it’s best to stay on her good side.
A few months after my last meeting with her, I got an unexpected call from my mum. She sounded a bit off. The way she always sounds when she’s worried.
‘There’s a woman at the bus stop. She won’t stop talking to me about ballet,’ she whispered.
‘Does she have her hair in a big grey bun?’
‘Does she have a plastic bag?’
‘Just get a different bus.’
*Sidenote- I disposed of the tuna as soon as the boss’s back was turned.