The Kindness of Strangers

I don’t know about you, but after a really long day at work I am usually in a foul mood.

My job is the kind where you spend hours answering the mundane questions of people who really ought to know better. It can be both absolutely infuriating and, between the questions about where the nearest music shop is (how should I know, I work in a school!) and why their previous email hasn’t yet been answered (you sent it five minutes ago) it can get pretty tiresome.

Every day I walk out with square eyes from my computer screen, straight into peak hour traffic. Usually I am a sour-puss gremlin in the hour between 5:00 and who-cares-the-TV-is-on pm.

Maybe it was the sheer mind-numbing dislocation of peak hour traffic, maybe I was slap-happy from the imminent weekend, or maybe it was the build-up of fumes in the still, sticky summer air that I had inadvertently inhaled, but I was in a disconcertingly chipper mood. This was usually a sign of a horrible mood crash to come (followed by ice cream and late-night bingeing on romance novels), but for that short period I was giddy with all the possibilities in a Friday afternoon.

The day was over; I was planning to acquire a decadent meal (for one), a movie (Bridget Jones’ diary) and a glass of wine (or a bottle… or a cask…). I drove to the local in record time.

My local supermarket has the dubious reputation of being the busiest supermarket in all of Australia. Getting a park here is a triumph worthy of awards and making it through the check outs gets a round of applause.

The first parking space I spotted was fairly convenient, but I’d noticed a woman in an old beat-up memory of a car circling the parking lot for a while. When we spotted the space simultaneously, I let her have it. It was too hot and too slap-happy to worry too much.

On the far edge of the car park I backed Jet, my trundling old lemon, into the squishiest park you’ve ever seen. Getting out was easy enough- just a matter of pressure, really, as I shoved my door into the concrete bollard and fell/pushed my way into the funnel between door and car seat. I tried not to think about how to get back into it as I made my way to the cool, but horribly crowded, store.

I hauled my rotund little butt around the aisles, stashing pork belly, stewed apples and a large amount of liquor in my cart. I was making fine time, ducking in between mothers with prams and old fellas with a nod and a smile.

It was a miracle day, where the register next to the 10 foot long line opened up just as Iwas on my way out and, after politely acknowledging that no, you were first, I was out in the fresh air, drinking in the sweet taste of oh-my-god-I’m-almost-home elation.

I was buoyant, floating on air. In a rush of good humour, I emptied my change purse into the hands of a local homeless man.

The bags were full and straining- my hands were red as I limped along to the car park, but nothing could wreck the good mood I had bizarrely been swept up in.

Just as I was about to step through an empty parking spot, conveniently placed in a direct diagonal to my run down old Holden, a car started backing up into it. Instead of my usual huff and side step, I paused, lowering my bags to the ground. She was lucky, getting such a close one (and no bollards in sight!) but she was struggling. I smiled cheerfully, waving and calling out directions to get her lined up. The grateful look in the rear-view was brief, but welcome. Nodding goodbye, my bags were back in my straining hands and I continued my trek.

Just as I spotted my car, I saw the woman I’d let have my car spot earlier. She was giving me an odd look- half puzzled, half intent. I smiled at her, wishing her a pleasant day, and (finally!) made it back to Jet.

I didn’t really think much about the look. I am a 5 foot tall, plus size munchkin, dolled up in a fifties dress and huge petticoats, stiletto heels and bouffant curls. I was used to the odd looks I get on the street, especially when people connect the outfit with the absolute wreck that my car (and really, my life) is.

Jet was hunched into her nook. I thought about putting my bags in the trunk for all of 5 seconds before I remembered the mess of clothes, shoes, random found objects and text books that occupied it on a semi-permanent basis. Instead, I unlocked the back door, edging in sideways, and placed the bags, one by one, on the back seat. Thinking about it, I decided to reach through the minimal gap the back door provided and unwind the front window. Then, instead of opening the door, I hauled myself up, tipping into the front seat in a mess of petticoats and a shriek. My heels kicked in the air as my skirts fell up around my head, and I swum through the drowning layers to pull the rest of me through.

I was desperately trying to get my skirt down from around my shoulders just as I hear a knock on the side of the car. Whipping around, I spotted the same lady peering in at me.

“Hello-“ she said, hesitant. I must have looked an absolute mess. “I know this might sound crazy-“ her, crazy? “-but, I was on my way to drop some of my mother’s things off at the charity bins here.” I glanced over at the huge orange bins in the corner of the parking lot, confused.

“I saw you helping those people, and you seemed so happy. My mum had an outfit just like that in her heyday, you know.” She looked at me meaningfully. I smiled at her in encouragement, praying she wouldn’t notice that the outfit she was admiring was now horrifying high up around my hips. “Well, anyway- I was going to give these away, but you were just so much like her-“ she passed a box in through the window. Shocked, unthinking, I took it from her automatically. “I think she would like you to have it.” She smiled kindly, nodded to me and walked away.

“Thank you!” I called after her, still somewhat bewildered.

After a pause, I opened the box. Inside was a beautiful gold necklace with a large grey pearl, and a matching set of pearl earrings. It was the nicest gift I had ever received, and it was from a complete stranger.

Later, I thought on the day. My petticoats were hung up, my pyjamas on and Bridget Jones was lamenting her spinsterhood on the television. For once, I didn’t feel the usual sense of disconnected exhaustion after a long day. I felt quiet, simmering in the remains of my earlier joy in the world. The necklace was around my neck, a warm reminder of human kindness.

I smiled, content.

Danielle K. Day

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