I never spoke to her. I never spoke to the woman that I saw almost every day over fifty years, but I knew her. Not her name, or her age, or any of that stuff, but I knew what she felt. Seeing someone so often for so long gives you that insight. I smiled with her, wept for her, loved her and hated her in equal measures. She broke my heart and made my days worth living. And on the days that I didn’t see her, I felt sad. No, more than sad. I was bereft. Those days felt empty.
I first saw her on the day my husband and I moved into our house. We were dog-tired, dragging boxes from moving lorry to hallway, dining room, spare bedroom and so on and so on. We couldn’t afford a proper removal firm, so we did it ourselves. It was, I remember it in perfect, picture-clear clarity, on my journey from the front door to the lorry to help my husband carry our mattress to our new room when I saw her. She was walking along the street, just about to pass our house, pushing a big, ungainly pram. She was wearing a bright blue coat and carried no bag. The baby was crying, but no big, hearty sobs, just a little mewling, he or she was obviously tired. Its mother looked tired too, her eyes bloodshot, her walk slow. But she was smiling down at her child, her cheeks reddened by the brisk winter wind.
I smiled, nodded, and she followed suit, welcoming me to the neighbourhood. The same thing happened a few other times over the next five decades. We didn’t know each other, never would in the proper sense of the word, but we were polite nonetheless. Sometimes I wish I’d asked her in for coffee or a piece of cake or something. Anything. We’d have been friends, probably. But as it was, I didn’t, and she passed by.
For fifty years I watched her pass by. I would wait for her some days, arrange appointments around her, pretend I was doing anything other than waiting for the woman. My husband never knew. He may have wondered why there were days when my mood was low (the days when she missed her walk, or I missed her), but he never questioned me. I wonder what I would have said if he had?
There were other days when my mood was changed by the woman, without her ever even knowing she’d done it. The day when, about two years after I’d first seen her, I noticed her belly was growing. Another baby. I was excited for her. For nine months I watched her getting bigger and bigger, getting slower and slower, and then I didn’t see her at all for a few weeks. They were worrying times for me. But then she started walking again, now with a toddler and a new baby in that same old pram. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt that happy about anything.
I watched the children grow, and on the day when I saw her walking alone for the first time, I realised they were now both at school, and I wept with her, wept for her loneliness and for her wondering what she would do without them during the day. She still walked, and I could gauge the school holidays by whether I saw the three of them or just her. I wondered what else she did. That would maybe have been the perfect time to speak to her, to invite her over, but of course I didn’t do it.
In years to come I noticed that although it was the school holidays, she walked alone. The children, two boys, too old, too cool to walk with their old mum.
But still she walked. She was getting slower as she aged, but she didn’t stop.
And many years later, there was that pram again. Squeaking and ancient but just as good as new really, with a new baby in it. A grandchild, I assumed, and I liked that idea. The walks continued and once a week there was that pram. I’d sit at my window, old now myself, and watch her.
Another couple of years passed. And then she didn’t walk anymore. It was over, just like that. I never saw her again. I had watched this woman mature, her hair grey, wrinkles appearing, her life flowing by as she walked by my house day after day for fifty years.
I drifted away from the window and found other things to do.
©Lisamarie Lamb 2011