That Old Lady

So, today I was referred to as “that old lady” by a man whose lunch I had just walked away with. His barramundi was in a brown paper bag, my chips were in a brown paper bag. They looked the same to the guy behind the counter.

There was a kerfuffle, apparently, as I waited for my four felafels, and tub of hummus, at the other end of the very long cafe counter, but it was noisy with doctors, and nurses, and tradies, and beeping golf carts that were transporting people from one end of the hospital to the other. I had to cup my mouth with my hands to be heard. 

My sister had heard everything, standing next to Barramundi Man, as he pointed my way, and everyone’s heads had apparently turned towards me. But, with the beeping golf carts, and the tradies, and the cupping of the hands, I hadn’t noticed them.

Even when we were over at the muffin counter, afterwards, choosing muffins and coffees, my sister didn’t say a word. But, rather, asked how I was going after the challenging two years I’d had. No mention of Barramundi Man and the kerfuffle.

Even when we returned to mum at the table, and I set up her chips and muffin, and took the lid off her cappuccino, and set out my partner’s felafels and explained where her fork was, and set out her latte for her, so she could find it with her hands, even then, my sister said nothing.

I opened the brown paper bag, ready for hot chips and coffee, after a sleepless night on the phone tracing my mother’s lost PCR test, talking to path labs, emergency doctor service, dementia unit staff, hospital emergency advice, and nursing admin, who at six am had said ‘bring her in, we’ll do it here’, only to be told at the 11th hour, by my other sister, that mum’s operation had been postponed due to something, something.

‘Mum,’ I had said, moving mentally into plan B, ‘your operation has been cancelled,’

‘Cancelled? Oh?’

‘So,’ I smiled, because, what else can you do? ‘We’ll go get coffee and lunch.’ More calm smiling.

‘That’d be nice.’

‘That would be nice’ I had said, learning over the last two years, that there is never only a plan A, that life is a constant, quiet morph of alphabetised plans.

‘What’s this?’ I said as I looked in my brown paper bag of ‘not chips’. 

‘That’s barramundi,’ my sister calmly informed me.

‘What do you mean it’s barramundi?’

I wondered firstly, why it was barramundi, and secondly, how she knew my bag held barramundi and not chips, and, biggest question of all, why she hadn’t told me before now, like at the muffin counter?

‘There was a guy who pointed at you and said . “That old lady” had his barramundi meal,’ she calmly informed me.

By now, my sleep deprived mind thought I’d been transported to a scene in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.

‘So, why didn’t you tell me?’ I thought the question obvious, but, my sister proceeded to explain.

‘No one believed barramundi man.’

‘Did you know that I was “that old lady?’”

“He was pointing in your direction, but I wasn’t sure he was pointing at you.”

But, I thought to myself, it was clear I had been standing next to three tall tradies, and the guy behind the counter, was a guy. I stared blearily back at my sister/Jack Nicholson.

A tiny part of my brain thought that morally I should try and find barramundi man and return his meal, but we’d been at the muffin counter for a while waiting, and so he would be long gone, and more importantly, he did call me “that old lady”, so I forked the barramundi and mash into my mouth instead, and it was magnificent. Not ‘hatted restaurant’ magnificent, but magnificent.

My family and I talked and laughed, and repeated ourselves multiple times, as we ate our lunch, and drank our coffees. 

And, I was grateful for family, and laughter, and that no one believed Barramundi Man, and that my sister/Jack Nicholson hadn’t thought that I was ‘that old lady.’


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