It’s a cold morning. I’m at Enoteca on Ramsgate seafront, and I’m in a terrible mood. I’ve had the worst night’s sleep in living memory, as I woke in the early hours from a dream in which I was digging up a dead relative in order to prove that they’d put his shoes on the wrong feet. As it turned out, I was right…but that doesn’t mean much when you’re suddenly awake at 3am.
It’s going to be one of those awful days: I just know it.
Then something absolutely lovely happens.
Something that almost restores my faith in humanity.
As I’m sitting there, drinking my coffee, a car pulls up and a young man leaps out, looking flustered. He runs around the side of the car, opens the door and carefully helps out an elderly lady, holding her arm as she struggles from the vehicle. He then guides her across the road and sits her down at a table outside Miles Bar. All this is done with such precision that I immediately decide he’s the old lady’s carer: a real good one, at that. He is so gentle with her that it makes me wish I was more suited to the caring profession, myself: I’ve always struggled with empathy (in that I worry constantly because I never feel like I have enough of it).
He then returns to the car and parks it in the Maritime Museum Pay & Display before rejoining his companion. They have a quick conversation and he disappears inside Miles and returns a few minutes later with a coffee and a tall orange juice. As he puts the coffee down in front of the old lady, she smiles at him and gently squeezes his arm and he gives her a kiss on the cheek. He then pats his pockets, shakes his head and hurries back inside.
The old lady makes a face and sticks two fingers up behind him.
Her gesture is so sudden and aggressive that it takes a few seconds before I register it for what it is. When I do, I can’t believe it.
Her expression is grim as midnight, and her (practically pointed) chin is stuck out in defiance. She holds onto it for no more than an instant before resorting to a frail, grateful smile when the young man returns. They talk again, but it’s now obvious that the guy is worried about something: he’s frantically patting his pockets and looking all around him. Suddenly, he snaps his fingers and dashes across the road in the direction of the car…
…which is when the old lady fishes a wallet out of her pocket and flips it onto the table, casting a glance over her shoulder and smirking nastily at the poor guy who is now running flat out for the car-park.
My jaw literally drops open.
She takes a sip from her coffee, closes her eyes and leans back, relaxing with a satisfied smile. After a few seconds, she reaches out and knocks the wallet onto the floor.
The young guy is gone ages. When he comes back, he looks flustered and really miserable, but his face lights up when the old lady fakes spotting his the wallet on the ground and points it out to him.
I shake my head in disgust. I even fold my arms and make a face, hoping she will look over.
Instead, she says something sweet to the young man, who seems to be apologising to her for losing his wallet. He dashes inside Miles once again, leaving her making what I now know to be a fabricated smile behind his back.
I’m just about to take another sip of my own coffee when she leans forward and knocks his orange juice over.
She sits there, watching the glass roll around, spilling its contents all over the table and onto the floor. When a man in a business suit at a nearby table comes over to help, she gestures to him to go away and mind his own business. Instead, she waits for the young guy to come back, makes some sort of apologetic statement about his drink and smiles with absolute glee as he hurries back inside for a third time.
When he’s gone, she picks up the salt dispenser and turns it round in her hands: I know….I just KNOW….that they’ve ordered food and that she’s going to pour salt on his plate when he isn’t looking.
I’m in shock, and it’s not because I can’t believe what I’m seeing: it’s because I’m immediately suspicious of the man rather than the old lady. She’s an old lady, I say to myself. What’s he doing to her? Why does she dislike him so much? What’s going on here that I can’t see? There is obviously some sort of hidden abuse, here: there is some reason that this old woman has a particularly grim dislike for the young man who is – outwardly – caring for her with such admirable enthusiasm.
Then she catches me staring at her.
I don’t smile.
For a few seconds, we just lock eyes with each other. Then I shake my head.
She gives me both fingers.
I look out to sea, suddenly so angry with the broken cruelty and growing insanity of the world that I literally can’t think of anything to say or do. Then I realise that this old lady is sorely is need of some karmic elderly pay dirt, and that the only person who can salvage this whole sorry situation is me.
I get up and walk over to the table. The old woman says nothing and I say nothing.
We just wait.
The young guy returns: he looks confused when he sees me standing next to his patient and not saying anything, but I quickly step forward as he sits down.
‘Look, mate: I don’t know what the situation is here, but the lady knocked over your drink on purpose. She also had your wallet in her pocket the whole time: she took it out and threw it on the floor when you went back to your car. I don’t know what she’s got planned next, but she’s been playing with the salt dispenser so your day out with her is only going to get worse.’
The young guy looks from the old woman to me, and back again. Then he says:
‘Sling your hook, mate. Haven’t you got anything better to do?’
I shrug at him and take a deep breath before walking, very slowly, back to my own car. On the way home, I say the word ‘unbelievable‘ about fourteen times.
Paydirt was originally written in 2014 by Davey Stone. If you liked Paydirt, please consider subscribing to the blog. All content is free. Thanks for reading ‘Paydirt.