October 15, 2009
The first time I noticed the car I almost stopped. I would have stopped had it not been for the beat box of a car revving impatiently behind me. I almost stopped to ask if everything was alright, if her car had broken down, if I could help, make a phone call.
My first question was “How could a car as new as that break down?”
And then I got to thinking that maybe she hadn’t broken down, she was waiting for somebody. But the questions wouldn’t stop.
“Why wait there, on a dangerous bend just before a bridge?”
And then the next time I saw her I only saw a part of her as I swung round the bend taking my son to rugby. Her car door was open and a shapely leg protruded.
“Who wears stilhettos around here?” was my next question. The leg was wearing an improbably high heeled shoe, tights and a shortish Ally McBeal type skirt.
The only person I have ever seen dressed like that in this rural area was a woman who had made the trip from a nearby town to sell me insurance.
The answers I arrived at shocked, amused and then saddened me.
“Who was this woman?” “Does she have a real name or has she discarded it?”
“Does she have a family?”
She is not there very frequently and there seems to be no pattern to her attendance.
“Does she have someone telling her what to do or is she self-employed so to speak?”
She parks her car in a pretty spot but one that would be hazardous to stop at, especially on impulse.
“Do people stop here on impulse? Like buying that bar of chocolate at the checkout that wasn’t part of your original agenda? Is it possible that someone can be pootling along not thinking anything very much and suddenly decide, in the split-second they have to stop on that blind bend, to partake of her services?”
“What exactly are her services?”
“How much does she charge?”
My wanting to rush in and save people streak is on high alert.
“What if she is being forced into this?”
“What if people like me drive by with nothing more than a crude thought, embarrassed reflection or judgement in their heads when the poor woman might need help?”
But even as I form this question, even before my synapses have granted it form, something central to me knows that this is not the case. The clues are in the relaxed slightly outward turn of that ankle, the shininess of the car, the music that sometimes drifts from it.
This is not someone acting under duress.
Her face always appears to be in the darkened interior of the car.
I notice that behind the spreading tree she camps out under there is a narrow dirt track. Someone later tells me that she has a caravan down that picturesque path. This repels me even more than the thought of, the thought of what? I don’t know.
I wonder if she has addiction problems. Is she doing this voluntarily but because she has to? “ How awful to live with such demanding demons that your body is up for grabs.
“This is such a small community. Would the police help her if she was in danger?” Sadly I think I know the answer to this. Once I ran to help a woman as she lay prone in the road having her head kicked by her husband. When I called the police they said they wouldn’t come because “those two were always fighting.”
I am open-minded so here is a question,
“Why shouldn’t she earn her living like this?” but something in me recoils and the idealist in me, the human in me, the woman in me, and most of all the mother in me cannot believe that she is happy. I wonder if she can ever come back from this place.
“What does she do for Christmas?”
“Does she have children?”
The questions don’t stop. And then I glimpse her face a few times as I pass by. The questions are drying up now. They have been replaced with others closer to home.
“What shall we have for dinner?”
“Who can pick up the girls when I’m at the dentist?” and my life edges hers out of my thoughts.
She is not a young woman, probably in her fifties or hard-worn late forties. Old enough to make her own decisions.
I do not judge her, I do not care about her, I do not worry when I see her sitting with a man with a cartoon mustache. She has become a blank space that fills a void.
No more questions.
But then one day I have one more. A question that makes me judge her, that makes me want to stop my car after all and speak to her. Makes me want to search for a glimmer of humanity in her.
There has been an accident. Five teenagers from the village have veered off that bridge. Two of them are dead. Two sixteen-year old girls. A vase of flowers sits on the side of the bridge. Cards and letters flutter in the wind. One has detached itself from under the vase and flits this way and that. It comes to rest near a foot. She kicks it away from her with the toe of her shoe, a foot tapping to the beat of music coming from her car.
I question her morals.