I see her most weeks trundling down the street with her makeshift trolley loaded with free papers and leaflets. I've opened the door to her on a couple of occasions because our letter box is too tight to squeeze the bulky ones through. Out there in all weathers with limp, grey, rats tail hair and jeans hanging off her skinny frame. She doesn't seem to care much for her appearance but then with a job like that I wouldn't either.
This morning as usual, I drove the kids to nursery and school at speed before a handbrake turn to get the car back in time to catch the bus to town. It's too expensive to park in the city. Opening the front door with 3 minutes to spare I dried the breakfast pots, tripped over the carpet, ran to the loo and then out again to clatter down the street praying I wouldn't be in time to wave as my ride sped past.
Shoulder bag, carry bag, don't forget lunch box, lock the door, battle with brolly, forget it pull up hood. Running now and starting to pant. (I'm not in any shape let alone great.) Horrible drizzle, slimy rainswept leaves - look out! - I nearly went then. Watch for woman with trolley.
" Morning........." I call like an over sized roadrunner.
She looks up, smiles and nods. No getting out of this one.
" Isn't the weather awful? I'll bet you'll be glad to get home after delivering that lot." I offer as sloppy consolation for not stopping.
" Oh, I've been out in worse than this." Is the unhurried reply.
I can see the bus, dear God get a move on, people at the stop are forming an orderly queue, I'm nearly there........made it!
Flopping down into a seat I have to remind myself to breathe.....not pant.....breathe......slowly....deeply....in through the nose.....out through the mouth.....OK....that's better.....
Got a good half hour now to slip into neutral, let the bus take the strain, I don't have to do anything at all apart from sit and be. Bliss.
My thoughts begin to drift to the day ahead playing out the shift at work, the return journey, everything I've just done in reverse right up to bedtime when if I'm lucky, I'll be able to grab a few minutes for myself before tomorrow morning dawns and it all begins again.
For some strange reason I'm thinking about the bird woman from Mary Poppins who nobody notices sitting on the steps of St Paul's. The children are not allowed to spend their twopence to buy a bag of food from her.
" Twopence, twopence, twopence a bag.......feed the birds, feed the birds..."
Good Lord, I'm actually singing the song on the bus...quick look around...anyone noticed..nope...thank heavens for that! Where on earth did that come from?
I think about trolley woman. Her thin, cold hands clutching a rolled up paper ready to post through someones door. I think about her doing this day in and day out watching me and people like me rushing around like loonies all in the name of commerce. I see her in my minds eye pushing the child's pram door to door come rain or shine, shunting, grafting, delivering. Her pace is measured, steady, purposeful.
She has all day.
She has the time of day.
I threw her a greeting and she had the time to speak to me when I only have time to scream at my own children to hurry up, get a move on, can't be late.
There was a look about her I think when she spoke to me. What was it in her eyes... laughter maybe?
I think about her all the way to work and I am humbled by her quiet ways. Her existence noted only by the front door giving birth without the aid of forceps, when no one is home to yank the papers through. Her fingers will be nipped and snapped by the stiff spring of the letter box for no better cause than for those papers to end up in the recycle bag 10 minutes later. This woman's' work dumped into green bags all over town without a second thought.
Tomorrow she will load up her pram and begin the task all over again knowing this.
Yes, I am humbled and ashamed. I want to tell her right there and then that I'm sorry for not seeing, for not taking the time. She would think me very odd I'm sure but I'm willing to take the risk because today I saw her breath clouding the air, her fingers raw with hardship yet still retaining a gentle dignity about her mundane lot.
Today I saw with my heart and now I need to know how this silent, centred woman can breathe when I cannot.