A Plump Old Woman

Ryka Foerster
 
A Plump Old Woman
“A plump old woman.”
That is the first thing Robert thinks when he sees her. He does not think "a plump old white woman", because her skin colour is not a characteristic that distinguishes her from the people around her. And strictly speaking, he doesn't think it either, he just perceives it: she is a plump old woman.
On Saturday mornings there are almost exclusively men in the DIY store, so the fact that she is a woman is the first and most striking thing about her. She has her corpulent body squeezed into a T-shirt and tight-fitting dungarees, over which she wears a checkered shirt and steel toed work shoes on her feet. Not exactly the kind of wardrobe you would expect from a woman in her sixties.
“She looks like a lumberjack.” Now she has entered Robert's consciousness, and he looks at her more closely. Grey hair, almost white. Laugh lines. Watchful, lively eyes. A friendly face. “I wonder what she's building,” he asks himself. And since he is a curious person and has no other plans on this Saturday morning than to buy a sack of potting soil for his balcony plants, he follows her unobtrusively to the wood-cutting department.

“Dear God, make this chalice pass me by,” Marvin prays as the plump old woman approaches him. Actually, he does not pray – he is not a believer – but he definitely does not want this customer. If she was attractive, or sexy, he might even go up to her and flirt with her a bit – he is not a monster – but a granny who looks like a sausage in her overalls and acts like a professional in work shoes: No thanks, there is really no need for that.

Robert is enjoying himself. He has been lurking in front of the shelf with the wood impregnations for almost ten minutes in order to not miss any word of the conversation between the salesman and the woman. She wants to build a tree house, needs the lumber appropriately sawn to length along with the fitting angles and seeks the advice of the salesman, because she is still unsure how best to construct the roof. The young rascal at the information desk obviously has no idea what she wants from him: Her questions seem to make him almost physically uncomfortable. Robert could help her; he is a carpenter. But he still allows himself the pleasure of enjoying her voice and her patient perseverance. He himself would have put the pimply Brad Pitt imitation in his place long ago. She remains calm and humorous. He likes her.

Marvin is getting fed up. He is just here to help out and has no clue whether roofing felt is better nailed or screwed. But he does not have to tell his client that. The old lady will not take no for an answer. It is annoying. Honestly: the idea of her lifting her fat butt up a rope ladder is absolutely ridiculous. What kind of a tree could hold up that big barrel?
“What do you want with a tree house?” finally bursts out of him. He realizes that neither the question nor the tone of voice is right, but he is only human. He hopes that she will now finally give him a break and that none of his colleagues will notice what is going on here. He needs this job.

“Touché,” Robert thinks. “Below the belt, but touché.” He joins the two at the information desk to prevent worse. Marvin grins at him as if he just made a good joke for which he now expects the applause of his best buddy. The woman tries to get a poker face. It is hard to tell how she feels: Stunned? Outraged? Shamed? Amused? Angry? Light-headed?
“Dear God, let her not feel the need to justify herself," Robert prays. He really does pray. He has not met a woman in a long time who makes him as curious as this one, and he sincerely wishes that she would not let this pompous DIY store guy intimidate her. He smiles at her and hopes that the encouragement will reach her. She smiles back.
Then she turns back to the seller. If you did not look too closely, you might still mistake the arrangement of her facial muscles for a smile.
“There is no law against old women climbing trees,” she explains to the young man. “And that also applies to plump old women.”

Robert starts to laugh. “Do you like Astrid Lindgren?” he asks as soon as he is able to speak again.
“Absolutely!” The woman, whom he is about to learn is called Marion, beams at him.

Marvin is speechless. He has no idea what's going on.

But who cares?

Translation by Shan Wardell
 
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