The Lady

Last time I was in Cambridge I ran past a lady. A ‘lady’ because she held herself so. It was a bright Sunday morning, early and quiet, and I had emerged from the secret gardens alongside Vicar’s Brook – a magical land of giant daisies and squashes, sweet peas and potatoes – to a prosaic city pavement. No cars worried the road; just a hand-in-hand couple, free to roam in peace.

Cambridge, garden, England, people, stories, writing, running

Waiting at a bus stop with her back to me was the Lady. A wispy bun was piled high on her head, and she wore a skirt and pale jacket, and shiny heeled shoes. Not too high, and not too low. She wore an aged – but not weary – unmoving elegance as she watched for the bus.

I wished I could take a photo. The Lady affected me in some way. She was caught in a timeless stillness while I raced against the clock.

On I ran and wondered:

– Where was the Lady going at 8am in the middle of a pandemic? Was an adult child or grandchild awaiting her? Or an elderly friend, with whom she’d sip coffee at a distance? Maybe she simply needed some air.

– Was she lost in a Sunday morning reverie, or in the years of long ago – thinking of a time beset with different worries or filled with life and dreams.

– Or perhaps the Lady was wondering whether her Friday night leftovers would stretch to another day.

On my return, I hoped to see the Lady again, but then felt for her when I did. There she was: still waiting, still watching. She hadn’t moved an inch. A resilient expectation held her fragile frame steady. There she would wait until her bus arrived.

One of my sons rarely takes photos. Partly because he can’t be bothered, but mostly due to the fact that – he claims – one won’t remember a moment so well if it is documented with an image.

Once I had run on and left the Lady where she was, I wished I had taken her photo. My two glimpses of her were prism-like, akin to a strange time slip, and too singular to let go. But to snatch a photo would have been invasive. I felt I was already trespassing by guessing at her life.

However, my son is right: the Lady’s image is imprinted on my mind: her bun and graceful endurance on that bright early Sunday, waiting and watching for a bus that seemed never to arrive.

I have a picture of the Lady, and I have a notion of her narrative – an assumption of her truths. I like to think I’m not appropriating them. I prefer to call it a loan.

The loan of a tale in which her bus did arrive, in the end.

More on the magical gardens of Vicar’s Brook here.