I just met a woman.
The sun eventually pushed out from behind a cloud as I paid the girl at the till for my healthy selection of fatty cheese, red wine and German beer. I make these trips from time to time, always on my own, to replenish my meagre stock that I keep close at hand. I am not an alcoholic or cheese-aholic or even a coffee addict, though that is close at hand also. I just like to have something to reach for when I am writing, like now. The supermarket I frequent is unusually bright. Oh, all supermarkets are well-lit, that is part of their marketing ethos, but this one has large windows by the tills and feels open and inviting. I like that. I do not like to feel contained or channelled or directed, but free to move and stretch and gape.
The girl on the checkout asked me for my loyalty card, that thing by which you swear allegiance to a cause but derive few real benefits, and smiled as she ran it through her card-chomping machine. It was a nice smile and I grinned back as I slipped my debit card into the waiting orifice, not hers, and watched the funds sucked out. It is a good thing the girl had a genuine smile; it relieved me of some of the agony. This was not the woman, but she was nice and I wish her well.
As this is a quieter shop, I left at a slow pace, leaning on the back-bar of my trolley. Some supermarkets make me want to leave them at a sprint, burning rubber from the trolley as I skid to the exit and thunder into the grisly car park. I don’t know what it is, but I wonder if it is not guilt or shame at using some vast edifice to modern commercialised food rather than a small, well-meaning, but struggling little retailer. Supermarkets are often busy with those that wish to be elsewhere. They are on the list of “chores” that consume us in our lives and drag us farther from the simplicity of our origins. Just a pain in the arse, really. However, today I was in the slightly less-rushed version and I took my time.
I think supermarket retailers like to give us glimpses on our way out of bargains we missed on the way in. It is the shackle they throw around our ankles forcing us to return and shop once again. And once again missing the best bargains until we are leaving. The woman driving the Ford V8 Trolley in front of me tested her brakes as she wheeled past an offer for chocolate; an irresistible foil-wrapped delight with half of the pennies removed from the price. I saw her put her head on one side and, without thought, touch her lips with her tongue. It was a most appealing gesture and I admit I gazed for a moment. Then she shook her head, straightened her shoulders and marched from shop tutting. The appeal evaporated; there is nothing more attractive than someone nearly giving in to temptation and nothing less than them moralising about it. This was not the woman either.
I lingered by the chocolate myself for a moment. I am not a great sweet eater, but I like good chocolate. Not today, however, and I moved on past the other missed opportunities and out into the square. The sun had hopped between a couple more clouds and had settled on a fortuitous gap, bathing me and my groceries in warmth. I did one of those idiotic moves that we all do around supermarkets. I stopped just through doors to change my glasses, forcing the woman behind me to pull off a handbrake turn that would have impressed many a racing driver. She had long, blonde hair and it flipped around her head in an angry little twist as she corrected her trajectory, glaring at me before bumping and swerving to the car park. She was definitely not the woman. But the person ahead of me was.
I have to admit in my male-idiotic way the first thing I noticed was her bum. It was a nice bum. I wouldn’t say it was a supermodel bum, nor was it an inconsequential bum either. It was just a bum really, but it was neatly packed into her jeans and that is always nice. Note to women everywhere; full-length jeans are the best bum-packaging invented. Don’t bother with anything else. Sadly, doesn’t work so well for us men; the male of the species drew the short straw in the bum department.
My attention wasn’t to remain on the bum, however, but was drawn to the actions of the woman herself. I am not sure how old she was, twenties to thirties, but she had been shopping for something that came in a large, flat box. She was balancing it precariously as she span round at the lifts, trying to hit the up button. I slowed, watching the little dance. Oh, I know I should have rushed to her aid immediately, but I couldn’t. The dance was beautiful; the woman was beautiful. On top of the box were a couple more parcels, and these she was pinning down with her nose. Her brown eyes peeked over the top and down at an angle as she fumbled at the wall, and her finger, finding its target, punched.
I was still some paces off when the lift arrived only moments later. The woman stepped awkwardly into the lift and seeing my reflection in the back mirror, pressed the button to hold the doors.
“Thank you,” I said, smiling. I couldn’t help it. She made me want to smile. She smiled back and touched the first floor button.
“Oops!” The boxes wobbled but she recovered wonderfully.
“What are they?” I asked. I don’t normally start conversations in lifts. Indeed, I rather hate those who do. I may need to rethink that.
“You won’t believe it, but they are Christmas presents. Yeah, a bit early I know!”
“Just a little!” It is July, it is warm, it is summer and her voice is delicious. I feel like I am falling into it.
“Well, with the baby on its way, I am trying to organise myself a bit earlier.” She indicates downwards with her eyebrows; she is still balancing the boxes. I see a small bump, perfectly round.
“Hard work.” She is smiling, just a little. One of those just-a-little smiles that someone should patent and put on every bedroom ceiling so you can see it when you wake up. Well, on my ceiling anyway. I smile back; you would have to be a cold-hearted S.O.B not too.
“I had a friend, a girl friend, who had several children. She said there are two necessities in life. First is boarding schools, the second is someone to pay the fees.” I don’t know why I said it. I mean, it is true, I do have a friend who said exactly that, but I am not sure one should pop it into a conversation with a pregnant stranger. Except, she wasn’t a stranger now. We were standing together in this lift, and I had known her for years. I would swear blind I had. Any court you like.
“Oh, boarding school! What a good idea. Especially the paying bit.” Her laugh was warm as she moved the box a little lower to the bump.
She twisted her nose and looked down at the 1st floor button. The lift hadn’t moved. My turn, as resident male. Apparently, all men have the ability to fix with a flick of an all-knowing eyebrow any technical fault that a woman cannot manage with a full toolbox and library of manuals. Well, that must have bypassed me. I stabbed at the button and she had a second go. Nothing.
“Out of order,” she read from the small post-it sized note by the button. “Is that the entire lift or just the button?”
“Button I think,” I said. “Either that or someone has removed the complete floor and it no longer exists.”
“That would be fun!” She smiled and we stood there a few more seconds, just the two of us.
The door had closed and the lift was silent. No whirring, no movement, just peace. I think at any other time one or other, maybe both of us would have felt at least embarrassed, definitely awkward and quite possibly nervous. Here was a beautiful young woman and a big old bloke with long hair and a stupid hat, stood in a lift together in a public car park. But we didn’t. We just stood there as if we had always stood there.
“Should we try another lift?” I suggested.
“Should we?” she asked, tapping the door open button.
“I will reverse,” I said magnanimously, as if that would somehow help her with her boxes. Of course, suggesting she put them on my basket might have been more constructive, but my brain had stopped being logical and had reverted to bathing in the moment, splashing around like a young dolphin learning to swim. Do they learn? Probably not, thinking about it.
“Thank you,” she said, reading my mind and laughing.
We waited a few more seconds for a fully-functioning lift to open its doors for the two confused passengers. It was still just us. I reckon the supermarket had noticed this strange play being enacted by two smiling strangers and had locked everyone else in, waiting for it to finish. We stood next to each other happily for the hours it took for the lift to travel one floor. I have no idea what she was thinking, probably wondering about her Christmas shopping, but I was having a dreadful time. I am large person and occasionally my confidence is a little low. Did she mind that I was fat? Was my hair clean enough? There is lots of it. Perhaps this a problem. Hope she isn’t put off by my hat. I mean, if we are going to spend our lives together in this lift, then I want to look my best for her!
“I have so much more to buy yet.” I swear she sighed. We only sigh with people we are close to. Have you noticed that? It is a sign of comfort, of mutual understanding. A sigh reveals so much about you; your needs, your worries, your cares, your wants. It is not something anyone should throw around without thinking. A smile might be an opening to a conversation, but a sigh is an opening to love.
“You’ll do it,” I said, and I meant it.
The door opened and we both walked into the car park. She did this little pirouette when she nearly walked my way, but realised her car was on the other side. She laughed and her smile was as wide as a sunlit valley. “Lost as always,” she said, musically.
“Good luck,” I said, nodding to the bump.
Feeling warm and happy, I made my way to my car. There was a large silver-grey car parked next to mine and a much older man stepped out and waved shyly. I knew immediately what it was for. I turned around to see the sweetly flustered woman following me. Father? Grandad? One of those. Either way, this was her lift and it was parked next to me.
“I went the wrong way!” she said, pulling a face.
“I saw,” her father or grandfather said.
I saw too. And although I am not positive, I think she was telling me not him. I put my booze and snacks in the boot of the car, opened my door and nodded to her.
“Good luck,” I repeated, too quietly for her to hear really.
“Thank you,” she said back to me, her voice equally quiet.
As I drove home I knew I had to write this story. After all, it is not often you meet, become friends, fall in love, have an affair and part happily all in the space of just a few minutes.
In the unlikely event the women involved ever reads this, then you have my apologies for taking advantage of just sharing a lift and getting a story out of it, but also my best wishes and, of course, good luck!