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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Observations in a mall: The old lady and the tea

People watching is my favourite sport.

I love sitting in a public place watching people go by. Guessing at what they do, who they are, what their lives are like. It can entertain me for hours.
It was on one of my trips to the mall when I noticed her.

She sat alone in the Avalon Mall Food Court drinking her tea from  a Tim Horton's paper cup. I knew it was tea because of her age. She was in her late 70s or early 80s. That age range came to mind because she had an uncanny resemblance to my mother. Her gray hair was short with the type of curls that could only come from rollers and setting lotion. Her black Sears rain coat was open revealing  a white T-shirt with a floral design around the neck. Her polyester blue pants had a permanent crease in the legs and her sneakers, which I am sure she had chosen for comfort, had seen better days.

She sipped her tea and stared blankly ahead. Not noticing anyone around her. Just deep in thought. It was noon. If this was my mother she would have wanted a sandwich or soup with her tea. Maybe she had eaten already. I wondered if she was waiting for someone. A grand-daughter maybe who had worn her out from shopping . Now she was relaxing with her tea. Catching her second breath.
I had to go. I was meeting a friend for the 12:30 movie and I hadn't bought my ticket yet. I left the food court and the lady behind hoping I hadn't left it too late to get a ticket. When I arrived at the theatre my friend was waiting with two tickets in hand predicting I had procrastinated.

It was after two by the time we left the theatre. We decided to shop for an hour before going home. We walked past the stores on the second level and my friend suggested we go downstairs. We passed the food court on the way to the escalator. I remembered the older lady. she wasn't at the table. I was just about to jump on the next revolving step on the escalator when I noticed she had moved. She was now sitting at the other end of the food court.  How odd I thought. She's still here.
We shopped for less than an hour and my back was killing me. My friend was parked in the underground parking at the mall and I was parked in the lot outside the food court. We parted ways and I continued up the escalator to the food court. I looked around but the lady was gone.

I knew before I hit the cold air I had better go to the washroom before I left or it would be a painful ride home. There were washrooms off the food court and I decided to make a detour.  When I was washing my hands I looked in the mirror and realized the lady standing two sinks down from me was the same older lady I seen sitting in the food court. She was trying to keep the water running but it was an automatic facet that shut off after a few seconds to conserve water. She noticed me staring this time "I can't get this water to turn hot" she told me. "I don't think it gets hot. I think they just give you enough time to wash your hands then it turns off automatically" I informed her.
As I dried my hands in the air dryer she went back to trying to run the water. I watched her in the mirror. She glanced toward me, seeing my back was to her, she took a clear plastic sandwich bag out of her rain coat pocket filled with tea bags and her Tim Horton's paper cup out of her other pocket. She took out a tea bag and placed it in the cup then filled it with warm water. She put the plastic brown cover over the top of the cup. Picked it up and left the washroom.

I gave her a few seconds then walked out behind her. She walked over to a table, sat down and began to drink her tea. She didn't speak to anyone. She just stared, deep in thought as before. My cell phone rang. "Don't forget I need white nylons for my dance concert" my daughter reminded me. White nylons. Where do I find them. There was a drug store just off the food court. I went in search of white nylons. Twenty-five minutes later, I was ready to leave the mall. I walked through the food court expecting to see the older lady sitting at the table but she was gone. The table was clean.
As I left through the food court doors, I caught a glimpse of her getting on a bus. I walked to my car and never saw her again. Thoughts of her consumed me on the drive home. Why would an elderly women spend almost four hours sitting in a food court? Who knows how long she was there before I spotted her. Why did she have her own tea bags in her pocket? Who was she? Her wrinkled face told me she had worked hard all her life and raised a family. Did they know she was here all afternoon? Did they care?

Is she one of the forgotten elderly?
The ones who sit at the mall all day because they can't afford to heat their houses. Or one of the boarding house residents who are not allowed to stay home during the day so they have to find a place to go. The mall would be a safe place for these people. Surely no security guard would ask an elderly woman to move along and stop loitering. Then it hit me.

The table was clean! The cup was gone. Did she take the cup with her?
I'll look for her the next time I am at the mall.

Maybe I'll be so bold as to ask her if I can sit with her. She reminded me of my own mother.
I'll tell her that and I'll ask if I can buy her a cup of tea.