Written by Holli Rubin
I have just arrived back in London after a wonderful summer in North America – a time spent catching up with friends and family, and taking the opportunity to just ‘be’ – something that is often overlooked in our hectic London lives.
I had an experience this summer that reminded me just how much our appearance is connected with our sense of identity, and is a strong form of self-expression. Even when other aspects of the self are being stripped away by time or possible illness, how we present ourselves to the outside world can help us retain that sense of who we are.
I was meant to have coffee with a friend also visiting but at the very last minute , she became unwell and so could not meet. Despite my disappointment in not getting to catch up with her, with this time now freed up, I was open for other experiences I would otherwise not have had.
As I am walking along the street, out of the corner of my eye, I see this adorable grey haired lady in a bright blue blazer, floral shirt, sparkly sneakers. I stop. She seems confused and looks rather lost. She is snazzy, cute. Closer now I can see her long nails painted in glittery polish. I ask her if she is ok. Where she is going? She tells me she came from that direction “pointing backwards”. I take out my phone trying to show her on a map to see if this orientation will jog her memory.This doesn’t seem to work. I realize that this will take some time. “Let’s have a seat on this bench” I say as I move along the sidewalk with her and help her to sit. Where do you live? And she proceeds to open her wallet.
In her wallet is a handwritten card: In case Edith gets lost please bring her back to The Kensington
So I call the number and speak to a woman named Linda to tell her I am on a bench with Edith.
“What,” she replies, “Mr Crozer is waiting for her – he is parked outside CIBC”
“Oh. Ok,” I say “I will go look for him. Can you call him and tell him we are waiting on the bench?”
“I can’t call him,” says Linda, “I don’t have his number.”
“Well I don’t have his number,” I reply, “We will go look for him and then go into the bank to see if maybe he went there.”
As we walked together, I become aware of my protectiveness kicking in.
“You look so cute.” I said.
“Well fashion was my thing you know – I had a shop – Elly’s Bazaar? I came from Europe (she speaks with a German accent) – Everyone always wanted my things.”
I speak to Linda again. Linda says, “Do me a favour, if you don’t find him, put her in a cab and we will pay for it.”
“OK” I say, all the while knowing there was no way I was going to put her in a cab on her own. I tell Linda I will call her back.
We go into CIBC and speak to the teller who recognises Edith. She told me on our walk over that actually she doesn’t have any money and wonders if maybe she went in to deposit it. I asked the teller, “Can you remind her what she transacted here?”
“Yes – she had a 50 dollar bill and she wanted to change 5s”
“Edith did you hear him, you changed money.” Oh she said.
Not finding Mr Crozer, we walked over to the grocery store as I remembered we could find a taxi there to take Edith back home. I called Linda to tell her. Linda answered the phone to tell me that Mr Crozer is waiting in the parking lot at metro.
“Perfect,” I said, “I will call you back once they are together… oh I see him,” I say. They are reunited. He has a German accent too.
We sit and explain what happened a bit before Edith asks for my name which I wrote on a flyer that I had in my purse. She starts to cry and I gave her a hug.
“You were so kind,” she says, “My kids are never going to let me leave again.”
I tell Edith that her kids just want her safe.
This woman caught my eye. Made me stop to notice her and to realize all was not ok. This woman could have been any of our mothers/aunts/grandmothers that walk those streets to do their errands and buy their groceries and do their banking. Just as they have been doing for years. But in some ways, time changes us. All of us.
It seems significant somehow that this woman Edith, who could no longer remember where she was supposed to be or what she did at the bank just a few moments before, is still able to express herself through the clothes that she wears, she’s still able to remember the meaning that fashion has had for her, its role in her life. A means of expressing herself. How Edith continues to choose to dress is a sign to the rest of the world that she still knows who she is.