Friday, 17 July 2009

Unapproachable at Last?

It's just after midday and I'm walking through Bristol, along the Bath Road, towards an area called Brislington, where I'm due to collect a car from a residential address.

Away to the left, on my side of the road, the river Avon flows between overgrown banks and amongst odds and ends of old industry. On the other side is a row of large terraced houses whose front doors open straight onto the pavement. A young woman stands on that side, watching the traffic and waiting for a chance to cross. She gives the impression of being in something of a hurry, although there is nothing much over here. She is thin, almost gaunt, and has long, light brown wavy hair, tied back. She wears a tight-fitting black top, and black trousers. But my attention is mainly drawn to the fact that she is barefoot.

A gap comes in the traffic and she begins to cross over, seeming to be heading for the only other person on this side of the road, a young, casually dressed guy with a small rucksack slung over his shoulder. But he seems unaware of her intentions, and also uses the gap to cross over. She immediately doubles back, and when she reaches him she stands directly in his path and begins talking. I can't hear what she is saying, but there seems to be a degree of intensity in the words, augmented with expressive hand gestures.

I don't think he knows her, and so I guess that there is some story being told which involves the need for any spare change he might have about him.

I keep walking and they are behind me before she has finished her pitch, so I've no idea what his response was. I turn around after a few seconds but he is already on his way, and she has her back to me.

When she first set out to intercept him, and he crossed over the road, it would have been easier for her to just keep coming and try her luck with me instead, but she didn't give me a second glance. I wonder why she was so sure that he was the more promising target?

When I was younger, in my twenties and even thirties, I was a magnet for anyone with a sorry tale to tell, or a collecting tin to fill, or a petition to be signed. Even in crowded city centres they seemed to home in on me regardless of whether I avoided eye contact or tried to look defiantly straight at them.

Maybe once you get past a certain age you stop seeming approachable and malleable, and slip into some other category instead - middle-aged and cynical perhaps? Maybe my days of being given the hard sell by strangers in the street are over. I don't think I'll miss them.

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