Walking the Spaniel this morning, I felt a distinct whisper of Spring. I couldn’t see it, but I knew it was there. The smell of snowdrops circled my nose and the morning chill had lost its bite. Spaniel seemed to be able to tell the difference too. On her 6th lap of the field, she still didn’t think it was an appropriate time to go home and I was left to admire my favourite tree and take in the view of the surrounding valleys, pastures and bleating sheep in the next field.
Moving to the countryside, I’d sort of lost the typical look-over-your-shoulder-be-wary-of-strange-folk feeling that I’d developed in Cape Town. Happy to say that it wasn’t an all-consuming sense of threat, but rather the typical locking of doors when you make a journey, especially at highway off-ramps, or slowing down and going vs stopping completely when arriving at red traffic lights on empty roads. It was an awareness of things and people around you, most of the time. Living in Beaminster, I’d started becoming more lax about things – forgetting my car open, leaving the back door unlocked at night. I was now living in a house without burglar bars and security gates on the front door, none of the things that remind you of anything untoward.
Until there was a ring on the doorbell one Saturday afternoon. My Englishman opened the door, and I could hear the faint sound of a woman’s voice. By his reactions and the tone of his voice, the strained politeness, I could tell he was incredibly uncomfortable. So I went to interfere. Or help, as I like to put it.
There stood a middle-aged woman – slightly disheveled, breath laden with the smell of Jack or even Captain Morgan himself. One plastic packet in her hand, shoes untied, not making eye-contact. She’d decided to wander into Beaminster, from the next village over the hill and with 4pm striking, realised that she wasn’t going to get back before nightfall. She had noticed all the cars on the driveway and decided to ring our bell to ask us to take her home.
What can you do? I was foreign to this situation. I would most likely have had my sentences rehearsed and organised, was I back in South Africa, but I didn’t understand this situation. My gut instinct was telling me that something dubious was ahead, but my head kept insisting that this instinct was based and built on a very different environment and upbringing.
Needless to say, both Englishman and I were at a loss for words. We didn’t have a lie ready, and we both felt too uncomfortable to kindly ask her to go away, so I volunteered to drive her to the village. For the first time since arriving on the shores of this green and pleasant land, I was slightly fearful. I grabbed my phone – thinking that it may save me should I be, I don’t know, at the hands of some unmerciful ax-murderer.
I didn’t care for the speed limit, nor the potholes in the road that led me to the next town – I just wanted to get there. She just wanted to talk. She, or it may have been The Captain, told me about her life, and her struggles, and her husband, and her son, and how life had generally just been unkind to her. We arrived at the hill leading into the village, and she asked me to drop her off there. It was deserted – there was nobody around. I insisted on driving her to her house (where hopefully, there were people around), but she declined. So I stopped.
She hopped out. Thanked me. And without fuss, trundled down the hill towards her home.
Driving back to Beaminster, I felt like an utter fool. My paranoia and second-guessing had created an experience in my mind that implied that this would be my demise. After 3 years of un-noticeably becoming alkaline to any sense of disturbance or imposition, my built-in, almost innate sense of self-protection kicked in.
Whether this lady was a source of real concern or whether she was just simply someone who had been dealt a rough set of cards and was looking for a lift home – I’ll never know.
But I’ve never seen her again.
And I did start locking the back door.