My friend Nell, who looks remarakably like a fairy tale 'Snow White', told me a story which I'd like to tell you.
But first, a bit about Nell. I've known her for about five years and we first met when I started working for the government and we were seated within desks of each other. Initially, I was found Nell to be a bit intimidating - she always looked so professional and generally together. She always looked beautiful - absolutely immaculate hair, clothes, make up - and I usually look a bit like I got dressed while still asleep. But, when I got to know her better, we became fast friends. We would have lunch together every other day - go shopping or just read our books in the tea room. My nickname for her is Miss Priss - which is meant in the nicest possible way.
Anyway, because we worked in the city, Nell used to catch the bus to and from work every day which was about 20 minutes each way. When she's on the bus, Nell, like most people, doesn't generally like to chat to people. She just wants to sit on the bus and read whatever trashy book she is reading at the moment (sorry, Nell but they are trashy. Oh, come on, the Nanny Diaries is so trashy). But back to the story - so you can all picture Nell, with the whole Snow White thing going on (you can put vaseline on the lense if it would help), sitting there reading her book every morning and every evening.
One day after work, our Heroine, gets on the bus to discover that there are not empty seats except for the "vacate for the Elderley or Disabled" seat at the front (just behind the driver). so she sits down on this vacan seat and a few stops later, an elderley woman gets on the bus with all her shopping. Before the gracious Nell can vacate this seat for the "Elderley", the woman sits down next to her. this isn't the nice, grandmotherly type of old woman who smells like rose water and has a tarten shopping trolley. Oh no, this old woman is one of those slightly deranged looking old women who forage through rubbish bins and shares their sandwiches with pigeons. This is the kind of old woman who forgets to bathe every day and keeps her money under the mattress.
So there's Nell - squashed against the window with half of the old womans plastic shopping bags (filled with other, spare plastic shopping bags) on her lap. In fact these plastic bags are pressing against her Oroton handbag and her twenty dollar stockings. As if the mere physical presence isn't enough, the old woman turns around slightly and begins to engage Nell in idle chit chat.
"So dear, are you Jewish?" Ok, that really came out of nowhere.
"Uh, no, I'm actually Catholic".
"Ohhhh, you don't look Catholic", says the old woman, slightly dismayed. But the interrogation continues.
"Are you married dear? Did you get married in a Catholic Church? How long have you been married?" Is she sizing Nell up to be a potential adopted grand child? But no, she's just lonely and she begins to tell Nell about her life, her family and her interests. With a lot of ahh-ing and ohh-ing Nell manages to keep the idle chatter polite without having to contribute anything else.
As the bus nears her stop, Nell begins to think that she just might escape this unscathed. But no. "Ohhh, my back is terribly itchy dear, I don't suppose you could scratch it for me, could you dear?"
Oh God. Only 500 metres until the bus reaches her stop and Nell can escape the horror. But, of course, Nell scratches the old ladies back. Being a well brought up Catholic girl, what else could she do? "So I scratched her scungy old back until we reached my stop" (this is a direct quote).
When Nell told me this story, I was in hysterics at the imagery. The beautifuly Miss Priss trapped and then scratching the back of a complete stranger. Now I just feel uncomfortable that I found this story so funny. Clearly I am totally lacking in the empathy stakes as I failed to understand the depths of this woman's loneliness. See, no real point at all.