Thursday, 24 January 2013

Breaking the ice

I used to occasionally see a woman at my old bus stop who always stood well away, almost around the corner.  She never stood any closer and always looked into the opposite direction, as if she either did not wish to see...or be seen.  She did not look like my idea of a misanthrope (somehow, I expect the signs of misanthropy to be etched upon the features, like suffering), but nor was it ever possible to make eye contact, never mind do that non-committal, half-nod that says, ‘I recognise you but let’s not invade each other’s space’ that we Edinburgh commuters seem to like to affect.

In the past few weeks I have seen her at my current stop a few times, standing a couple of yards away, like someone not ready to fully commit to the whole idea of getting on the bus.  She does not stand (or perch on what passes for a bench) in the shelter, but instead stands out on the pavement in the cold, mean, mid-winter rain. 

Because she generally reaches the stop before I do, I say good morning as I pass... but I don’t slow down, in case I frighten her off.   One morning she smiles.  Another morning she says ‘hello’ back.  Finally, as it so often does, the weather prompts the first conversational exchange--ice as ice-breaker, as it were.  

She does not speak English very well which is why, I assume, she has held herself apart.   Magda* is Polish and looks like an assembly of circles--especially in the winter time when she is wearing a puffa jacket, knitted beanie, mittens and clumpy boots.  She has a round face, round eyes and round cheeks--even a round little mouth that shapes itself in an ‘o’ when she speaks--and a smile of great sweetness that breaks as gradually but radiantly as a winter dawn.  Her eyes twinkle merrily,though her nose, if roundish, is not a cherry.  Nevertheless she is, in fact, the prototype Mrs S. Claus.  

Magda lives nearby; in fact, I am surprised I have not seen her around the neighbourhood. She works as a cleaner, though she never knows if, when or where she will be working as her boss only lets her know at the last minute. ‘Sometime he make me angry--bad pay, no work for long time, blame me for something not my fault.‘  This makes me think of the Swedish cleaning lady who was briefly infamous for driving a train into an apartment block.  It turns out it wasn't anything to do with her; on investigation it was discovered that the train drove off by itself...but that doesn’t make such a good story.

Still, Magda says, ‘it is not bad.  It is work and work is good.’

Edinburgh is good too, she asserts. Though it feels colder than Poland and she misses the snow.  ‘Snow that stays.’  Christmas here is nice, but strange, she muses.  ‘All shopping, no churching.’ 

But she is happy to be in Scotland, adding:  ‘Always I dreamed to be here, but I never thought.  Now I am.  It is...’ she pauses, searching for the words she wants.  ‘Oh, my English is so bad,’ she mutters.  ‘It’s a great deal better than my Polish,’ I interject, unhelpfully.  

‘Scotland is my fate,’ she finally says, tucking her hands into her pockets and nodding her head for emphasis.

‘What’s for you won’t go by you,’ I say brightly.  Her expression darkens.  ‘It’s what we say here,’ I explain.  She’s right to be wary--I never know whether it is meant as a promise or a threat.  It is very Scottish.  Oxymoronish.  Like a Glasgow kiss.  

The next time I see her she is back in her usual spot, away from the shelter.  She lifts her head and nods as I pass, the way you do when you live in Edinburgh. 

* I would say that names have been changed to protect the innocent, but I don’t actually know what her name is...

1 comment:

  1. If I meet her at the bus stop I will ask her about the nice lady who passes her every day with a nod,a smile and occasional conversation- the nice lady with a wonderful way with words!