They’re definitely out to get me, you know. I can’t think why. It’s disabled people, mostly.
It started in Waitrose. I was nipping around getting a few things – essentials like milk, duche de leche, bread for the office – when I inadvertently bumped into something which clattered in a metallic kind of way. It wasn’t a pile of BOGOF Alphabetti Spaghetti. I mean, good gracious, I doubt that Waitrose children are allowed to eat those anyway. It was a pair of metal crutches being carried across the lap of an elderly lady who was getting herself around in a wheelchair. She had a traditional bubbly silver perm that had gone a little wild and needed doing and a pink cardie done up with one button over a paisley blouse. Her crutches stuck out on either side of the chair and she had an empty wire basket on topof them.
I felt terrible. It’s part of my job to help the less mobile, so I’m usually the one giving a hand to get them comfy in a wheelchair or lending an arm for support – not crashing into them and knocking them flying. Poor woman, I thought. That was probably the only sensible way to carry her crutches and idiots like me should notice.
I made a mental note not to be so bloody careless and of course apologised for bashing into her walking aids. Maybe my biorhythms were low. They have been a convenient thing to blame since I first read about them years ago. I still don’t know what they are or if, indeed they are real but people generally seem to accept “low biorhythms” as a valid excuse as readily as they accept “sorry, the computer’s down.” Having said all that, it’s unheard of for me to bowl into mobility- impaired people in supermarkets. My experience has been the reverse. I have been the victim of several trolleys being rammed into the back of my heels, (to be scrupulously accurate, not all at the same time and to be scrupulously fair, probably due to me making abrupt halts to consider shopping lists). Whatever the reason, it’s a supremely painful injury which results in a reflexive yelp, some hopping about suppressing curses and apologies from guilty party.
This minor collision happened just by the frozen raspberries, which were in part of a big island freezer unit. So having given my apologies, I didn’t hang around but did a detour to find the dulce de leche and then doubled back for the milk, which was the other side of the frozen raspberry aisle. As I was reaching for it from the shelf, there was a jab in the back of my knees and more clattering. I turned. With some astonishment, I found it was the same little old lady in the wheelchair. This time she’d bumped into me! Her crutches were still on her lap, somewhat awry.
She sat there and smiled at me wordlessly. Her smile was hard to figure. It wasn’t apologetic. Neither was it ironic. It could have been satisfied, though. Triumphant, even. I smiled back not knowing what on earth was going on and obviously I felt compelled to apologise again, even though I had been completely stationary. In terms of motoring law, if someone crashes into the back of your vehicle it’s ALWAYS their fault. I’m not clear if the same principle holds true with trolleys and people in wheelchairs in supermarkets. She didn’t say a word but continued to look beautific and it occured to me more forcibly that this might not be a simple case of Not Looking Where She Was Going but could have been a Disguised Revenge Attack. Maybe she’d spotted me over there by the dairy, noted that I was dithering between Yeo Valley organic semi-skimmed and Waitrose’s own skimmed and decided to go for an all-out assault. Being unable to reach the jugular, she’d made a determined stab for the femoral muttering ‘Take that you clumsy bee-atch!’
It was slightly surreal and confusing. But she was still smiling and no blood was spilled so I moved on towards the checkout where I was delayed by the wine offers. Chat au Neuf was reduced and seemed too good to pass up without taking a couple of bottles. Just as I was loading them into the basket, there was a bit of a kerfuffle in the aisle at the end of wines. There was the wheelchair again and the now-familiar silver barnett. Two concerned shoppers were bending over, apologising about colliding with the elderly lady’s wheelchair. It was clear there had been another crutches incident. Just what had I started? It was and still is, a mystery. I was just grateful to have moved out of the firing line.
A week or so before that happened, I was in the car and stopped behind a car which had halted to let a woman in a wheelchair go over a zebra crossing. She made no immediate move, but it must be tricky to get going if you’re in a wheelchair. Traffic began to accumulate in both directions as they waited for her to cross. She shifted her feet irritably as though she was trying to kick the foot rests out of the way. I half-expected her to get out and push the chair across herself like the Andy Pipkin character in Little Britain.
As everyone waited patiently for developments, the woman shook her head at the traffic and started to wave in some desperation at a bloke approaching from the direction of the taxi rank up the street. He broke into a trot. He looked the right age to be her son or a carer.
He got to her, released the brakes on her wheelchair and spun her round to face away from the road. With an apologetic wave, he pushed her hastily away along the pavement. It became clear he’d parked her up while he went for a taxi.
I could just imagine him saying “You wait here mum and just watch the traffic for a bit. I won’t be long.”
I doubt he’d even noticed the pedestrian crossing.