Do you want a cup of tea?
1 April 2010
Newcastle, a few weeks ago: I’d been up since four, so that I could fly up from Hampshire to an event. The closest metro station to my hotel is bookended has Italian delis, posh breakfast cafés, dress agencies all along the nearest terrace. Trust my homing instinct to drop me straight in yummy mummy land.
Opposite the dress agency a puffy car pulls out of a side road while I’m crossing. The back bumper slides right up to my shins. I swivel round and try to make out the driver. This calls for eye contact: …and take your Boden catalogue with you or Ehhh, at least you weren’t accelerating towards me, that’s happened before! ?
I incline to something closer to the second and carry on.
Past the T-junction, the driver runs up to me from behind, in tears. I don’t recognise her with her glasses off. ‘I could have run you over,’ she says. ‘I’m sorry.’
She keeps on saying it. I realise: I don’t know who you are, but today is when your story happens. You’ve just had the phone call or the letter, or you’ve found the evidence, now your plot begins. Before you know it you’ll be off on the attack and you’ll become the hero. I’m just that little incident that shows your state of mind.
Instinct tells me she needs some human comfort. It must be the quiver in her voice, more than the tears. I amaze myself: most of the time I’m reserved to the point of shyness, but I touch her shoulder through her woollen coat and speak the password of the concerned bystander: ‘Are you all right?’ And ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’
Am I going to have a broken wife and mother on my hands, in a suburb of Newcastle where I know nobody?
She doesn’t want a cup of tea. She isn’t all right either, but I let it go. I tell her to take care, and I carry on. I don’t say: please go and have a sit down before you do anything else.
I can’t say: I wish I could just find out how it ends.