A mad woman running. What if I chase her? Does that make me mad too?
I've always been like this. Ever since I was five. It has never helped that on leaving a telephone box, I have always turned in the wrong direction.
We were in Heerlen, my mother was shopping. A neighbour had given the three of us a lift, Mum, toddling-tantrum-me and the baby. The shop was C&A, I think. Perhaps we had been looking for clothes for me? Heerlen was the nearest big town to the Air Base at Geilenkirchen. NATO has it now, but then it was a Royal Air Force camp. We would have crossed the border and driven the twenty kilometres to Heerlen early that morning. The car would have been Paddy Clelland's Opel Rekord or Chalky White's Ford Taunus. Neither of these worthies would have driven us to Heerlen: their wives were the only ones with a driving licence. My mother didn't learn until she was nearly 50 years old and she had no-one to take shopping then.
My father did not like either 'Rene Clelland or Mavis White much. They wore eye-shadow and eye-liner. My mum tried it once, 'Rene or Mavis had a Tupperware party one afternoon and she came back wearing it. It looked nice, at least until Dad got home.
I like to think it was a sunny day; but in family stories it was December and bitter cold. I remember dawdling before leaving the shop, most likely mooning at something shiny and of no possible use to a boy of five. The door swung shut behind my mother. I must have been half an aisle length from the exit. I ran to the glass door, fumbled it open. I looked left. Tall Dutch men and women with their giant children bustled on the pavement. To the right, I caught sight of a calf length fur coat. I ran after it, clutching at the drape of the coat. At last I caught a tiny fistful of mink; my face crashed into the high rump. Of course, it wasn't my mother. This woman was very beautiful indeed. Nowadays, I think that I knew that my mother had not gone shopping with her children in the most beautiful thing she owned: a fur coat. Doubtless the woman's coat was newer and more expensive than my mother's, which had been bought in Benghazi, years before.
The woman took my hand, hers was so soft and could no more have belonged to my mother than to a sheep. She spoke at me in a language I didn't understand. It might have been Dutch, but many Germans crossed the border too: for cheaper coffee, amongst other things. I'll never forget how she smelled: a combination of flowers and the sweetest taste I knew then. Her eyes were very wide. Her tongue passed over her red, red lips. She gave my hand a gentle tug and we began walking down the busy street. The woman looked back several times before we had gone twenty five yards. Her hand trembled in mine. I could hear a screaming howl getting louder. So I looked back too. My mother was pushing my sister in a push-chair at a speed dangerous to herself, her baby and all pedestrians within range. I felt a tug on my hand and the woman began walking faster. The screams became louder and the push-chair bounced over cracked flags with an alarming noise. The strange woman let go of my hand. My mother grabbed at it. The fur coat receded into the distance and the legs beneath it were running: sure-footed despite the high heels. I strained against my mother's grip but I knew I would never catch the woman.