Writing is hard sometimes. I have been wedged in a corner, a tight corner, since the end of my study at OSE unable to garner words into sensible order although my head is popping and fizzing with ideas that melt away as soon as I go anywhere near any kind of word receptacle. At work, I’m trying to write a report/proposal that will make everybody’s life easier especially mine, but a week, a bloody week, has gone past and it is still a stuttering mess of nothing much. So I am giving up on ideas and writing about something I saw because at least I can reflect on that.
Yesterday evening, I got off the bus and did a bit of shopping and was coming back to where I live and I could see a man with a toddler on his shoulders looking down at what I initially thought was another toddler on the floor. As I came up to them it became clear that it was a crouching woman. Getting even closer I could see she was in distress. The man put the child down but he didn’t really do much to comfort her. Then I heard her. She wasn’t crying, she was wailing, but a weird kind of wail, really despairing, not terribly loud, but keening, jarring and upsetting and it pulled a thread to my own personal dressing up box of misery. I had walked past by then, but I couldn’t just do that so I turned and said are you ok, do you need any help? The man looked at me and said something to the effect of no, we are fine. So I turned and walked away. A couple coming after me also asked the same and were rebuffed, so they didn’t linger either. I could still hear her, or I thought I heard her as I unlocked the door to my building and I felt guilty for doing so little.
Do you need any help? Of course she needed help, she was wailing. So why did I take the word of the man who looked more embarrassed than concerned? Both him and the boy just looked like pitiless gate keepers and I acquiesced to their, their what? Ownership? She remained hunched up on the floor. She wasn’t being stoical, nor was she letting rip, but she also wasn’t indulging in any stiff upper lip either. She was in distress and it was being forced out of her mouth and written on her face. The sound she was making only has one meaning and the shape of her features accentuated it. Why did I say do you need any help? Why didn’t I say, can I help? Can I get you anything? Why didn’t I insist that this is the sound I recognise, you don’t make that sound for the hell of it, it’s not like an infant on a bus shattering and restoring the ambient noise. She was a well dressed adult completely capable of stringing a sentence together, explaining what was happening and even making suggestions as to how to alleviate this pain but so consumed by some feeling so unpleasant she was reduced to making a noise. And yet the boy and the man spectated.
Of course I’m judging him, perhaps she is given to bouts of howling. Maybe she’d just received terrible news that had completely floored her and she’d rebuffed his attempts to console her; perhaps she is a spoiled petulant idiot who had this time her bluff had been called and she’d been left to cry it out. Why not? Even in the dark it was clear that she was well looked after, a small slender, well dressed woman with beautiful dark, shiny wavy hair. She wasn’t one of the shattered messed up humans who patrol Church Street stoically requesting cash for a bed for the night, they are far less likely to show such raw emotion. Whatever the reason, there is no way I can know because I took him at his word and left. And being honest, I know I was applying my own template to her situation because I do know what it feels like to make that sound. I’ve been distressed enough to howl in the street and so overwhelmed by awfulness of my situation as to render passers by invisible. I have long-standing and intimate knowledge of what it is like to feel helpless, abandoned and incapable of fixing things myself. The sound she made was the vocalisation of those feelings, a song of misery and loneliness. And yet, I took the word of the person not in distress and went home and now I’m sitting here more than twelve hours later writing about it because I cannot write about anything else.