When I am relaxed with nothing pressing, one of my favourite pastimes is people watching. I watch them in bus queues, at railway stations, on trains, in shops, in fact anywhere there are people and I’m not busy, I’m watching. Not from any lascivious or sexual pleasure, just watching and making up stories in my head as to why they are there, how they are dressed and what are their plans for the next few hours. I have notebooks full of these little vignettes, they are handy to have. I always think that I will introduce some of them into the novel I have always promised to write but probably never will.
It is quite amazing if you spot one or two people together and something about them triggers something in your mind, how you can blithely write away a few hundred words afterwards when you have time and space about how one person held her hand or stood the way he did. Where you send these people or what you think about them has nothing at all to do with reality. The person you see, you could send to the moon as an astronaut whereas in fact the person is probably just desperate to get home and put their feet up after a hard day’s slog at work. It does not matter too much the sex of the person either it is just this intangibility, this spur in the way they act or behave that sets off trains of thoughts.
Take the other night in the Abbey Theatre, I had my day’s work long done and I was waiting for my daughter in the foyer of the theatre after the show. It was a packed house as is every performance of their current production, Frank McGuinness’ adaptation of James Joyce’s short story The Dead from his book The Dubliners. It was a cold night and the audience had come well wrapped up in several layers and an overcoat which they had left in the cloakroom. The show finished with much chatter, it had gone down well. They formed an orderly queue at the hatchway of the cloaks when I noticed this lady come walking over in my direction, she stopped at the corner of the coffee bar no more than two yards from me and whispered something to the gentleman who was with her. He, clad in tweeds and with hush puppies on his feet ambled over to the file of people waiting.
The first thing I had noticed as she walked through the crowd was her hair, it was magnificently cut and styled, a thick lustrous head of hair that was smoky blond in colour and as she was taller than most, this fine coif could be seen above the throng. By the time she had parked herself at the corner of the bar, her whole figure came into view. She was wearing knee high slim black leather boots with a possible 3″ heel, encasing a slender pair of legs clad in black tights but it was her dress that struck me. A green sheen of a dress, cut and tailored exquisitily but there was something about it, it wasn’t new, it had been worn on many occasions. It was in a style that was popular 30 or 40 years ago, short sleeves, a round neck and a hem that finished a couple of inches above the knee. The lady could have been any age between 45 and 70, whatever guess would have surprised me if was told and she did not quite fill the dress to its potential. She might have lost a few pounds since she bought it but you could imagine how well she would have filled it when new. Her whole ensemble, boots, dress and hair would have been enough singularly to have raised a look of admiration but the whole together was something else.
The remarkable thing was that while every other person in the audience of nearly 500 were wearing many layers, the only thing between this lady and her maker was this little green dress and obviously some fine lingerie. Her face and neck with nary a line to be seen was subtly made up, a fine chiselled jawbone and interesting laughing eyes, all topped with this wonderful head of hair. She would honestly have stood out in a Rose of Tralee line up and she two or three times the age of those girls. She stood there totally relaxed, absolutely confident in herself as she waited for her man.
He took the coats and shuffled back over to her, he looked 15 years older at least but could have been the same age. He was very attentive, helping her on with her black coat which had fur trimming at cuffs and round hood. She was not phased by the hood, she pulled it over her coiffure without fear of disturbing it and then decided to pull it down again. The gentleman still attentive held her bag as she belted up for the cold night. This lady was no chicken as I have intimated but she had the mind, look and body of a young hen and this man knew it, so attentive was he. They trotted off into the cold night air and this is where the blitheness of writing comes in. Were they or were they not attached? She seemed to permit his company rather than welcome it but she was probably far better and happier with her own. He was for his age, perhaps too attentive, was he trying too hard? He might have thought himself on a winner. But all this is the stuff of novels and so far I had just faced reality.
I waited for my daughter, the foyer by then deserted and we set off in the direction of Talbot Street, our destination an oriental restaurant. We had not gone 100 yards when she said to me “did you see that woman in the green dress”. “I did” I said sadly and continued with my thoughts.