Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chance Encounter

So, this is how it is.

You've been up all night with your baby son for like six nights in a row, and it's starting to be so you can't tell the difference between night and day (in fact, Friday night I woke up at 4.30 am with phantom baby cries). Let's just say: you've looked better.

In an effort to have something of a normal life, you decide to meet a friend for coffee at Swiss Cottage. Swiss Cottage is one of those places that is too hard to park in (all roundabout, no pavement) and you have to go on the tube, but it's happened more than once that I've gone down to Kilburn tube with Zaphod in the buggy and then the lift is out of order and I've had to shlep him up like 50 steps to the platform, which with my residual pregnancy complication, frankly is no fun.

Which is how I found myself waiting at the C11 bus stop.

It's a sunny day, and I (relatively) jauntily walk up the the bus stop; there's a youngish guy there, smoking a roll-up.

"Yer just missed one," he tells me. The C11 is notorious for arriving only sporadically anyway. His look says "you might as well walk" but aforementioned postpartum yet residual pregnancy complication means walking to Swiss Cottage (which I would have thought nothing of a year ago) is totally out of the question.

I sit down. Could be a long wait.

I angle the buggy so Zaphod isn't in direct sunlight. He is wearing his cool Gap denim jacket (hand-me-down from S, actually the gift I bought her, rather greenily recycled) and his superhero t-shirt (father = comics geek) and his jeans with easy access press-studs (which kinda turn them into a skirt) and a stripey beanie (looks cool but stops him from scratching) although all apart from beanie are hidden by the ridiculous baby cocoon the buggy company don't tell you need to buy till you already bought the buggy and you're a first time mum and you've not got the hang of baby temperature control / layers etc.

Actually, in some respects, having a baby is rather like having a doll: lots of clothes changes, lots of cuddles, and even goes to the toilet (like April Showers - although she only peed).

The guy at the bus stop looks over at Zaphod.

"Cute kid. How old is she?"

"He's five months," I reply. It is kinda hard to decode gender with babies, but the denim getup should kinda give it away.

"You the grandma or the mother?" He asks.


(and you know how much I hate exclamation marks).

Now I know I'm tired, and I don't have makeup on, and haven't lost the babyweight, but sheesh. I stay calm.

"Do I really look like a grandma?" I ask him.

He's embarrassed.

"I'm having a bad day, man," he says, drawing on his cigarette. "Sorry, sorry. Didn't even look at your face," he says, looking at my face. I'm not convinced he thinks I'm the mum even now.

He's got a few days' beard, and looks frankly like he could with a shower. He's asian, wearing jeans and a hoodie, and that large kippah that I don't know the name of, and got a faraway look in his eye and a lilt to his voice. His body language says he fee's bad about insulting me.

"See, I'm just having a bad day."

And I think mostly because he feels bad, or maybe because he just wants to talk, or possibly because I have a friendly face, he tells me his story.

I came here from Yemen seven years ago, left my family. I was just a teenager. And I met this girl, she's not a muslim, her family are Christian, she's from Poland. We lived together for six years. I really loved her. I mean, I lived with her, yeah, man. I didn't just hang out and visit and go home, I knew her. I loved her. And now she's gone, going back to her country.

He looks at me; I think he's going to cry.

And I gave everything for her. Broke off with my family in Yemen because she's not muslim. And - how old do you think I am?

Conscious of his earlier faux pas, I don't want to get it wrong. Also, it's hard to tell.

"twenty three to thirty four?" I hazard.

He continues.

I'm a grown up, yeah. I was really in love with her. I'm hurting, man.

I'm worried he's going to ask for a hug or something.

And I've got a proper job, yeah. I could look after her.

He looks at me.

I work in the City, yeah. Canary Wharf (convenient on the Jubilee line, I can't help thinking). I earn £28k yeah.

It's this detail, his salary, that's stuck with me most. I mean, English people, they don't really talk about money, and certainly not how much they earn. But this guys just proud of how well he's done.

I venture a question.

"When did all this happen?"

Three days ago. I can't go to work. I can't eat. That's why I'm sitting here. Today's the first day I've been out.

I want to offer him something. I see my bus coming.

"We've all been there. It really does get better. I'm so sorry." I smile at him: I've had a tiny, human insight into someone else's life. Kinda makes my sleepless nights seem less... of a problem.

He smiles.

Good luck, mate, with the baby, he says to me. Sorry 'bout what I said.

I got on the bus.

When I looked back, he'd gone.

But then it does take forever to get the buggy on the bus with one hand and get your pass out with your other hand, and hold on with your cashpoint hand and use your fourth hand to swipe your pass.

1 comment:

Gert said...

I haven't seen you for a while and anyway I can't remember how old you are, but anything past early-mid 30s, in some/many subsections of society, yeah, you would look old enough to be Grandma. And actually, it's not just 'sub-sections of society'. I know several middle-class university educated and/or professionally succesful people who achieved grandparent status in their 30s. And that's without steps (my oldest step-granddaughter is 27 years my junior!)

I'm not sure I ever congratulated you on the baby. I think I was going to and your comments were borked. Belated congratualtions!