it’s fine, really

Starbucks, on a sofa, reading and calming down having been scared by HSBC freezing my bank account because I didn’t receive a letter.  I was aware I behaved all surly the first time round: big in attitude, would have thought myself a prick if I’d been on the other side of the counter.  There’s something maddeningly robotic about uniformed, institutionalised bank workers which riles me on top of whatever it is I’m being riled about, like they don’t dare to be human and deviate from a script.

Anyway.  Having returned a second time with my passport as photo ID to prove I was who I said I was, my bank was unfrozen and I was altogether more genial.

A few days earlier, scrutiny of a bookmark revealed it wasn’t just a receipt, but a five pound voucher for photo development.  So I had a few photos developed.  Flicking through them with a coffee I had been warmed by the results.  You see so much more just by virtue of it being physical, because you’re not just looking at yet another screen.  Screens make eyes cynical, demanding and impatient.  There’s a freedom outside screens which allows them to meander around at a more leisurely pace.

A wearied mother passed by my sofa, holding the hand of her cute blonde child, circa 2 – 3 years.  They started to  climb the steep staircase which began over my shoulder.  Following up the rear was grandma, a proud and well-presented sixtysomething lady.  “Is there a lift?” she asked her daughter.  Receiving a negative response, she turned around and began to pull the empty pram up the steep stairs backwards.

I broke from my book and offered to help.  I could hold the front end, giving an effortless glide without thwacking on every step up, or I could just carry it.  “No, no,” she smiled.

“Are you sure?” I asked.  There were quite a few steps.  It wasn’t a small effort on her part; it was on mine.

“No, no, it’s fine.”

It didn’t look fine at all.  Perhaps others would have forced themselves on her in that situation – a friendly Irishman who’d had a Guinness or two: “ach, don’t be silly now.”  But I’m always one for free will and letting others decide quickly, not trying to persuade or going round in circles – which makes me cringe.  I never have those tedious money grapples: Oh, no, let me. / oh, no I couldn’t possibly / oh, but…

If you say yes when I ask if you’re sure the first time round, then the discussion is over.

So in this instance after hearing that she was sure, my face perhaps shrivelled into a ‘fine, suit yourself, you strange woman’ expression and I sat down again.  But I was perplexed.  Why wouldn’t you accept help in that situation?  For what possible reason?  Me?  I might look faintly predatory and am certainly not a smiley friendly cuddly bear sort as many Celts are.  But neither do I think I look an imminent threat; merely forgettable, bland.

Or maybe it wasn’t that at all.  Just a basic distrust of humans even greater than my own?

Or perhaps it was just one of those moments when you spontaneously make a strange call and know as soon as you’ve made it that it was daft, but you can’t reverse it.  Especially if the other person quickly accepts that it really is fine.

The rear pram wheels slammed into the few steps around my head height, then carried on their ascent for a good few seconds afterwards.  She must have been exhausted by the time she got to the top.


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