A Cherry-Pink Moment

by Erika Byrne-Ludwig

Another routine week for Roselyn. She took the bus to work, settling snugly in the seat, all dressed in woollens in tune with the low temperature. Her coat was buttoned up with a long scarf wound around her neck, almost hiding her entire face. One could imagine a ferret cautiously peeking out from its burrow. It was a cold wintery, windy day. She took her book out with her gloved hands, ready for the hour-trip, and immersed herself in sunny images: a story set in Tahiti ... possibly planning her holidays or just having a warm day-dream at the beach with her feet bathing in the lagoons.

When the bus stopped at the traffic lights, she looked up. Instinctively, she lifted the coil of her scarf that had moved down to cover her mouth. She had just seen a gust of wind flapping the papers under the paper seller's arm, rippling through her shirt and spinning her trousers around her legs. A cold wintery day for selling papers to commuters dressed in spring-weather clothes.

Roselyn was one of those people sensitive to the slightest cold and draught. She could see the woman standing on the unsheltered platform. Her ruddy face, her thin purple lips, her small tuft of hair, all taking the brunt of the wind. Roselyn shivered, a habitual shiver, more like a nervous tic, as she couldn't possibly be cold.

Still there the next day, as scantily clad, the paper lady was laboriously getting on with her job. But something had started to unsettle Roselyn. The picture of the woman in a shirt, fluttering in the cold wind, bothered her for days. Through sheer coincidence, she looked into a shop window in her lunch-time, saw a jumper, walked in, bought it without hesitation and carried it in her bag to work the following morning.

I can afford it, she thought, rubbing her knuckles, sore from years of typing. Giving, like receiving, always put a glint of joy in her eyes. The bag accompanied her for days, warming her lap and her thoughts. But even trying to help someone required courage, and Roselyn had never been particularly gutsy. A turmoil began in her mind, questions about giving, about the right to assess people's needs. These troubled her for a couple of days, but then, straightening her plump shoulders and raising resolutely her double-chin out of her scarf, she came to the conclusion that the paper lady needed her help. Who knows, her eyes too might flicker with joy when looking at the woollen jumper.

She decided to give it a try, encouraging herself as she often did: come on, Rose, you can do it. It was mid-winter, a long month of cold winds ahead. This prompted her to act. She got off the bus and walked up to the lady with a shy smile, bought a paper held out to her. The woman's hand was purple-blue. Just like the vase on my table with the bunch of irises, Roselyn thought.

She spoke fast. Sometimes when you're timid you may as well come straight out before you choke completely. It was something she had worked out a long time ago. Her best way to deal with her shyness which from being serious as a little girl had become manageable in her middle-aged years.

"Sorry, I'm Roselyn ... I was wondering if you'd like this jumper.'' She took it out of the bag and stretched it in front of the paper lady.

"Is this some kind of a joke?'' The woman asked after a pause. Her expression was mixed, partly amused, partly incredulous.

"No, I mean it. I bought it for you the other day. In case you were cold ... well ... It's very cold and windy ... There's no shelter here.''

"Hang on, hang on, what are you talking about?''

"This jumper is for you ... I saw it in the shop and I thought of you and I bought it ... especially for you and ... it's a pretty cherry-pink colour just like your shirt ...''

"Who do you think I am? A begger?'' the paper lady said, turning quite red in the face and puffing with impatience. Her eyes were definitely not flickering with joy.

"Of course not ... I can see you're working and all, but ... I just thought you might be cold here ... standing in the wind ...''

"If I'm standing in the wind, you certainly are standing on another planet. What's the matter with you?'' She stared at Roselyn with her grey eyes. Cloudy, overcast-weather eyes. A stormy look, she was sure, would forever stick in her mind.

At this stage, Roselyn felt she should simply turn around and leave, but the anger of the woman spirited her to stay. It gave her strength. She felt she had to salvage some of her pride, avoid looking completely defeated.
"Is it a sin trying to help somebody? All I wanted is you to be warm and comfy. I saw you from the bus and ...'' She was now holding the jumper on her curled arm, the empty sleeves hanging down.

"Now listen you, I've just had enough of your silly talk. If I was cold I'd bring my own coat, wouldn't I? Or would I be too stupid to leave it at home?'' She served a driver and came back to Roselyn.

"I never said you were. I just ... See, I myself get cold very quickly so I assumed ... just thought you might be cold too ... and that you might need some help ...'' Roselyn now felt less and less assured, but tried to remain firm as her natural shyness might overcome her again. "My paralysis'', she secretly called it.

"The hide, this one's got to evaluate me. It's you who need help.''

"Alright I made a mistake ... You don't need the jumper, I get it. So what? You could've just said `No thanks.''' Roselyn's cheeks were warming up. She placed the jumper back in its bag.

"Say thank you for an insult? Just go and visit the homeless, my dear. You might even find me there helping.''

"So you know what it's like wanting to help then?'' Her voice was now like a strainer letting through her bitterness and her disappointment.

"The needy ones, yes. Not people like me. You're an oddball, Lyn. Just get off my platform, please. This is my workplace.''

Under her many layers, Roselyn felt suddenly hot. The cold wind was not reaching her heart either. It was keeping it burning with shame. She got on to the next bus and opened her book. Her cheeks were still flushed and her eyes started to sting. She tried to think of the lagoons in the exotic land she had been reading about. She walked on the pebbles but they hurt her feet and the water was cold. She stopped imagining and looked in front of her but could only see the paper lady's distorted mouth. Distorted from anger, from outrage even.

She sighed. I was silly. The woman was right, I must be an "oddball''. She wished her brains, or her heart, wouldn't so often let her down. In the street where she worked she saw a charity booth and pushed the bag into it. Someone will enjoy my cherry-pink jumper, she thought with some defiance, but also with a touch of grievance. Putting items in the booth, it's what she would do in future, she decided, just to avoid a similar unpleasant experience. When the lid closed, she felt another page had turned, a life lesson had just been given to her.

The following day, when the bus stopped at the traffic lights, she glanced at the paper lady, as scantily clad. Their eyes met and looked curiously at each other. I've insulted her, she's hurt me. I wonder who came off best. My cherry-pink moment, she said, lifting her scarf over her mouth. The bus moved on and their glances slowly unlocked themselves. Roselyn's eyes turned to the road and beyond to a warmer climate, saw the woman's silhouette, fluttering in the wind, with the lagoons reflecting her elusive image.