I have always been slightly eclectic in what I wear and have no intention in changing just because I like to go about on a bicycle.
But why this need to wear such ‘spoke defying’ clothing (flowing skirts, dresses and footwear such as wellies, sandal, even bare feet) in the first place ?
The incident I am about to tell you of, might well be the underlying reason for my longing to be different.
One day when I was about eight years of age my mother took my siblings and I into town on the bus.
It must have been for something of major importance like buying school uniforms or new shoes because I’m sure she didn’t take such a journey lightly.
It was no easy task to bring six children into Dublin city center in those days on public transport. (Not that it is any easier today but at least now you can check on your phone as to what time the next bus will arrive at).
Anyway as she was ushering us all into Clearys department store, I received a sharp slap across the cheek. The owner of the hand that slapped me belonged to a man, who then proceeded to grab me by the arm and I was instantly absorbed into a large family going in the opposite direction.
Luckily for me my mother’s sharp eye spotted what was happening . She caught me by my other arm and pulled me safely back into her fold.
The man realising his mistake began to blubber ‘I’m sorry missus! I thought she was one of mine’.
He was obviously on the verge of cracking.
My mother instinctively understood the mishap and feeling pity for him stopped long enough to listen to his story, (while we took the opportunity to play merry -go-round in the large revolving glass entrance door).
‘The wife is in the Coombe having baby number seven and I thought I’d take the kids into town for a treat. I thought one of yours was one of mine’
I was traumatised by the event. not because I was nearly abducted but because it struck me, even at that young age, that I was so lacking in individuality, I could have belonged into any brown haired, fair skinned, Irish family.
From that day on I took every opportunity to prove I was different.
(A unique individual, rather than an unimportant cog in the family workings).
For example, when it was my turn to set the table, I would put my knife on my left hand side and my fork on my right
When challenged, I swore that this was how I always ate.
‘Maybe I’m just different’ I would say, shrugging my shoulders nonchalantly.
When my dad was showing us how to find the blind spot in our eye, an experiment he did by holding up his finger, I swore I didn’t have a blind spot.
But you must have’ He said crossly.
‘Maybe I’m just different’ but I said it to myself.
You did not argue with my dad.
Later as a teenager when others tried to copy the fashions of their idols, I did the opposite.
If the fashion said long, I wore short.
If it said short, I wore long.
Just the other day my daughters and I were laughing about the oddities of dress code they followed in their teens.
‘What kind of thing did you wear Mom?
‘I wore what everyone else wasn’t wearing’ was my reply.
I remember the first outdoor folk concert I attended.
It was in the park in Blackrock.
A sea of denim filled the slopes that led down to the stage, except for me!
I wore a long cotton nightie I had appliqued with colorful flowers and with a colorful ‘petticoat’ showing underneath.
‘Do I look at least a little bit different? maybe exotic?’ I appealed to one of my sisters twirling in front of her in my latest creation.
‘Ah no’ she replied ‘your cheeks are too rosy, your eyes are too close together and too blue. You don’t look anyway exotic but you do have a sort of Kind face’.
I was so disappointed
Who wanted to be the owner of a kind face?
My ‘Kind ‘ face seemed to draw unwanted attention
No I don’t mean that men were falling at my feet to gaze adoringly at it.
It was more the sort of face that invited people to tell their woes to.
It is summer and I am on the dart home after a thirteen hour shift at the hospital. Exhausted, not just physically but mentally too.
I am what I term ‘peopled out’.
The day has been bedlam with hardly time for a tea break.
But at last I am cycling madly along the Merrion road and arrive in one piece at the dart station just in time for the train.
Happily the carriage I choose is empty.
I secure my bicycle to the rail , open the window and sit back with a long sigh.
The train stops at Booterstown and a woman gets in.
She sits down on the seat across from mine.
I can feel her looking at me even though I am staring out at the sea.
I concentrate on its color and texture and wishing I was swimming in it.
I hear her getting up.
‘Excuse me’ she leans across me to close the window.
Looking meaningfully down the empty carriage with its rows of unoccupied seats and closed windows, I say politely ‘If you don’t mind, I would like you to leave the window open. Its so stuffy and I have been stuck inside all day’
‘Oh but then I wont be able to hear you properly’
She is now settling herself down opposite me.
‘You know how it is when the windows are open? you can hear every rattle of the wheels and it makes talking impossible’
I stare at her in dismay realising what is coming but am too tired to object.
Regarding me for a moment, as though considering where to begin, she then starts.
‘I have made the biggest mistake of my life’
‘I hope you don’t mind me telling you this, but you do have such a kind face’.
She goes on to tell me that she has just recently bought a house in Salthill Galway to be near her newly married daughter, not realising her daughter had been planning to move back to Dublin.
And had done so recently.
‘So I come all the way up to visit her … see if she needs a hand and she is so annoyed that I haven’t rung her in advance that she wouldn’t open the door for an age. She says they don’t need help and as she doesn’t have a spare bed I can’t stay with them so now I’ve to go and stay the night with a friend’.
She looks at me as she pauses for a breath and for one dreadful minute I think she might ask if she can stay with me.
The woman with the kind face.
But she doesn’t.
Instead she continues her rant.
‘I think it is very selfish … after all I’ve done for her …. so ungrateful.. ring in advance… as though I was a stranger… have you any daughters?
She has to repeat the last question as I am no longer listening.
But she persists, so I take a deep breath and reply.
‘Yes I have two daughters, and in fairness, as we are in a digital age, whether we like it or not, the norm is to ring and check if it’s suitable to visit, so that’s what I do.
She opens her mouth but closes it again.
‘I suppose you are right’ she says at last ‘Oh look! here is my stop’.
The dart is pulling into Killiney station.
She picks up her designer bag and hoists it onto one shoulder. Her hair is impeccably groomed. Her outfit glamorous.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the window, red faced, hair array.
Then just before the door opens she turns to me again.
‘I envy you, you look so serene’
With that she hops onto the platform, high heals clicking along the stone steps.
I watch her disappear through the turnstile then practice pulling mean faces at my reflection in the window.
But its no good I just cannot change that kind serene face.
Many thanks to Nutan http://www.nutan.ie/ for the ‘Kind face’ photo’s