Donna curled her fingers over the handle bar and pushed, her knuckles white against wrinkled skin. She heaved with all the strength her eighty-three-year-old body could muster. The shopping trolley groaned, but it remained rooted to the sidewalk.
“Oh bugger that!”
Donna kicked at the back wheel lodged in a crack. A crack that was proving itself a worthy opponent in an unsanctioned duel. Donna huffed ,and with hands on bony hips, she scanned her surroundings.
The hazy noise of traffic swam through the air, and everywhere she looked, people moved. This one hurrying to a meeting, his briefcase swinging in a dangerous rhythm. That one talking on her phone as if every word coming from her mouth was the most pressing. All of them milling about like busy ants. All of them the same and none of them willing to stop and help an old lady out.
“Not this old lady.”
Donna surveyed her trolley again. Thick blankets bulged out of the top, her worldly possessions tucked safely beneath them. She had some freshly scavenged groceries in one corner, and an assortment of pots and pans were tied securely to the trolley’s sides. They clanged as she went about her day. Donna liked that. She called it her music. By all accounts it was a lot more pleasant than that drivel people listened to these days. But until Donna could get her trolley free, she would not be listening to her music.
Donna squatted beside the trolley and wrapped her hands around the frame. If she wanted the trolley free, she would have to lift it. The trolley was heavy and Donna old, but she couldn’t see any other way. She, like the people flowing around her, had a very busy and very important day ahead of her. Donna flexed her fingers, tightened her grip and lifted. That is to say, she tried to lift the trolley. There was a brief moment where the wheel hovered above the crack, but then the trolley thunked back down and Donna’s breathe wheezed out.
“Excuse me, ma’am, let me help you with that.”
Donna looked up at one of those “Tech” people. They were easy to spot in a sea of suits and ties. Their casual clothing stood out like one great big middle finger to the status quo. Donna had no idea what they actually did, but the world was changing faster than she could keep up, and they had something to do with it.
The Tech guy shuffled to the front of the trolley, and Donna got out of his way. In a matter of seconds, he had the trolley free and standing on smooth sidewalk once more.
“Thank-you,” Donna said. “I don’t know what I would have done without you. It’s my anniversary today. I’m going to the park to have lunch with my husband.”
The words gushed out of Donna. They always did when someone looked at her like she was a real person. Donna was so used to being glanced over, or stared at like she was some kind of incurable disease, that when someone showed her a thread of dignity, she grappled for a connection. She wanted to feel seen, and she would do anything to hold onto that feeling for just a little bit longer.
“Well congratulations,” the Tech guy said. He reached into his wallet and drew out a five-dollar note. “Here. Its not much, but happy anniversary. Get something good for dessert.”
Donna could feel the tears gathering as she took the money and hugged it close. “Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you. John likes those cookies with the jam in the middle. I’ll get some of those.”
“That’s a great choice.” The Tech guy smiled. “Well, enjoy your meal. Your husband is a lucky man.”
Donna smiled, and the Tech guy left. Just like that, she was invisible again, but her heart was lighter than it had been moments before.
Donna got behind her trolley and pushed it down the street. The park John loved best was not far. There were lots of trees and a beautiful pond where people would come to feed the ducks. John liked ducks. Aa messy kind of elegant, he’d say. Not show-offy like the swans or scavenging rats like the pigeons. They got the balance right. They reminded him of Donna. Donna wasn’t so sure she liked being thought of as a duck, but she liked the idea of messy elegance, and so she let John tell her she was like a duck and married him all the same. It wasn’t a fault that John chose such strange ways to compare things. He tried, Donna knew what he meant. That was all that really mattered.
Donna could see the park now, but first, she needed to stop and get the cookies. She turned down a side street and made her way toward a petrol station. Petrol stations were usually more expensive than grocery stores, but they would let Donna buy stuff without hassling her. Grocery store staff got real antsy when she walked in. They would try to usher her out quick as possible, using their bodies as shields to hide her scruffy form from other shoppers. It didn’t matter to them that she had money. She lived a different kind of life, an unacceptable kind of life, and for that she couldn’t be trusted. It was ridiculous. Donna had never stolen or done any sort of dishonest thing in her life. She certainly couldn’t say the same for some of those fancy rich folk that got to do whatever they damn well pleased. Donna shook her head. It was better to pay a little extra for the cookies.
True to form, the petrol station cashier barely gave Donna a second glance. The cookies were bought and paid for, and Donna left the store happy to have been treated like a regular person. She pointed her trolley toward the park and clanged her way down the sidewalk.
Donna had set up her picnic blanket beside the pond. Ducks waddled about the perimeter, their beady little eyes on the meager spread. Donna’s excitable chatter rose above their quacking, “The bread buns are a little stale, but they’re still good. And you have to try the apples. They’re only a little bit bruised, but so very sweet.”
She smiled at her husband. “I met a nice young man today. He helped me when my trolley got stuck. And he gave me money to buy the cookies. They’re the ones with the jam in the middle. He said you’re a very lucky man to have me.”
Donna leaned over. She brushed her fingers against the faded photograph that sat opposite to her. The man in the picture was a much younger John than Donna could truly recall, but when she propped the picture up against a rock like that, it still felt like John was looking at her.
“I think I’m the lucky one,” Donna whispered. “With you by my side, I was never invisible.”