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The Pikachu Lady

Dear Reader,


Do you like to people-watch? I do. I find people’s (unguarded) behaviour both curious and fascinating. People-watching is, by its nature, a covert undertaking. It has to be. If the people you were watching knew you were watching, they wouldn't behave in a manner that was true to their nature - not to mention they might be offended to the point where angry words are exchanged and/or physical violence is inflicted upon you!


The following story is an example of people-watching.


Early on the morning of New Year's Eve (2019) and in preparation for a trip to a retail outlet for a day’s shopping - my wife's idea, not mine - we called into a local garden centre cafe for a hearty vegetarian breakfast. Being early, we were the first in. Food ordered, we then chose a table in the window in which to enjoy the view of the garden centre’s flowers. Breakfast was served shortly afterwards and consisted of hash browns, vegetarian sausages, fried eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms. I had a side order of toasted white bread, along with a supersized pot of builder’s strength tea; my wife had toasted brown bread and a very large cappuccino in a cup reminiscent of a receptacle my Nan used to keep under her bed.


During breakfast, I glanced up to see a small, stooped figure at the service counter. A figure dressed in a three-quarter length hooded red coat; the hood was lined with white fur and was up, hiding the figure's face. My first random thought was that it was either Father Christmas or Red Riding Hood. The figure was also wearing a red plaid knee-length skirt with calf-length fur-lined leather boots. No handbag. Despite the lack of a handbag, I made the cunningly astute assumption it was an elderly woman. I could have been wrong because we do live in a liberal society, but as it turned out, I wasn't.


After placing her order, the lady in red - second random thought and 10 points for the correct answer - carried her tray of tea and crockery over to a table in the centre row, not far from us and facing me: curious. Based on years of people-watching, a cafe empty of people tends to fill up from the outer walls inwards, suggesting to me that we don't like to be in an open area because we feel exposed and/or vulnerable, safety in numbers kind of thing.


The lady in red had chosen to sit in the centre row, surrounded by empty tables.


The next time I glanced up - after loading my fork with hash brown, baked beans and a large morsel of drippy egg - I did a double-take. The lady in red had unbuttoned her coat and pulled back the hood to reveal a grey jumper and a bright yellow hat, a bright yellow hat with a face on the front, small arms sticking out from the side, and long legs dangling down with which - presumably – were intended to securely tie the hat. I blinked several times. It was quite a sight. It also took me a few seconds to realise the hat was the Pokémon character, Pikachu. Father Christmas/Red Riding Hood was really Pikachu in disguise! Who knew!


My world had been shaken to its very core.


I tried not to openly stare, though I don’t think it would have mattered because she appeared to be lost in thought, so I covertly studied the lady. She had a round face, with smooth skin and a few laughter lines, a touch of pink to her cheeks. It was a friendly face, kind and innocent. I guesstimated she was in her seventies.


I watched her pick up one of the cruet set, peer at it very closely, then shake a small amount of its content onto her tray, to then peer closely at that, too. She then did the same with the other cruet. I assumed she had poor eyesight and was establishing which was which. I wondered if she would remember during the time it would take for her food to be served to her table.


She returned her gaze back to the cafe, again, looking but not seeing, alone with her thoughts. She seemed sad and world-weary. I wondered at her personal circumstances. Was she married? Divorced? Widowed? I couldn't see whether or not she was wearing a wedding ring. Did she have family or children, or was she alone in life? Did she frequent the cafe in order not be alone, but to have people around her? I watched her blink a number of the times, as though her train of thought had come to an end, to then see her glance at her tray before repeating the cruet set process.


Minutes later her breakfast was served, scrambled eggs and white bread. I wondered at the bread. Was it for dental reasons, in that it would be easier to eat, rather than toast? Or maybe she just didn't like toast!


She steadily worked her way through her breakfast. Once finished, she dabbed at her mouth with a paper serviette before then putting a large handful of the serviettes into her pocket - probably to use as tissues at a later date. I watched her get up, assuming she was going to leave but saw her return to the service area. I watched her rest her hands on the counter and lean close in to study the selection of cakes. Saw her shift her weight onto one foot, tucking the other foot behind her calf. After a moment’s contemplation of cake, she took a step the other way, shifting her weight onto the other foot and reversing the process, a move I can only describe as endearingly girlish and the body language of an innocent child.


She decided on a fruit scone, and then returned to her table.

Suitably satiated with animal-free breakfast products and a fluid level intake that would probably determine more than one comfort break en route to the retail outlet, my wife and I made our departure. As we passed the Pikachu lady, she gave me a casual glance, looking but not seeing. I instinctively smiled at her as if I knew her, which I felt I did, in a way. Her reaction was like a light being switched on. When she smiled back, her face lit up and the sadness and world-weariness melted away, her eyes were bright and focused.

That brief interaction left me with a warm feeling, that maybe she was okay and not as sad and lonely as I'd thought - until we got to the car park where I then found my inquisitive mind wondering as to how she had travelled to the garden centre which was on the outskirts of town. I found it hard to imagine her having a car. I don't know why I just couldn't picture her owning or driving a car. There was a bus service, but I don't think it was frequent. This left me with an image of her walking home, aware that the nearest houses were a distance away. I then wondered what sort of house she lived in, probably terraced and probably small. Would it be warm and welcoming, or cold and empty?


I silently wished her a Happy New Year.


If I thought I'd seen the last of the Pikachu lady on that day, I was wrong. I saw her a week later in the market square in the middle of town, just briefly and just in passing. It was Market Day and the square was full of stalls and people. I was crossing the square when the crowd parted and there she was, grey jumper, red plaid knee-length skirt with calf-length fur-lined leather boots, three-quarter length hooded red coat and bright yellow Pikachu hat. She was sitting alone on a bench, with a take-out cup of something-or-other beside her, gazing into the middle distance, looking but not seeing, surrounded by dozens of people but alone, alone with her thoughts. As I walked passed, I glanced at her. I think she may have been talking to herself, but I couldn’t say for sure. In the cold light of day - as opposed to the artificial light of the garden centre - her laundry routine didn’t appear to be regular, and from under the hat, long, lank, strands of grey hair could be seen, suggesting her personal hygiene may not have been, either.


I walked past. She didn't see me, didn’t recognise me. We didn't exchange smiles.


I was left with a sense of sadness at what I perceived was her way of life. But who am I to judge? What's to say that what I perceive is correct? She may well be a happy and well-adjusted individual, and hopefully, that is the case. I wish her all the best.


People-watching can be both curious and fascinating - and emotional!