The other day, I was walking down the High Street near where I live, when I spotted a lady that I know sitting outside a café.  I could have crossed the road and left it, but I could hear generations of female family members collectively saying ‘Don’t you dare be so rude’ in my head, so I approached her to say hello.The lady in question is of indeterminate age, I have known her for about 25 years, and she has always seemed ‘older’.  I appreciate that this is always a relative term, but in my head, I have always described her as an ‘older lady’  in other words she isn’t elderly, but she is sufficiently older than me that I would have to address her in the plural in Greek and I would have to be respectful.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I am polite and respectful to most of the people that I meet, but this is one of those ladies that you feel like there would be consequences if you slipped and addressed her too informally.  She was sitting in the outdoor section of the café, presumably so that she (or her friend who had not yet arrived) could smoke.  As this is London, and the month was February, the outdoor portion of the restaurant is enclosed on three sides by heavy plastic sheeting, and raised onto some decking.  She was wrapped in a heavy blanket provided by the coffee shop.  I immediately gave an inner sigh of relief that I had given up smoking before the ban came into place.

I got onto the decking and into the sheeting and said hello.  She looked up and said:

“Hello my sweet girl! Somebody was just swearing about you to me today, but I set them straight.”

“Er, wow, thanks for setting them straight. What was I supposed to have done to this person?”

A brief explanation followed about how this lady had called her up absolutely outraged to tell her that I had inadvertently sent an invitation to a charity event to her deceased mother and her father who was too ill to attend.  The comment had been, ‘Doesn’t anyone know what is going on in that charity?’  I have inherited a list of about 800 names, and I am supposed to call and enquire after everyone’s health before sending out the invitations.

“Don’t worry, I explained it wasn’t your fault and you are a lovely girl.” She said, smiling.

“Thanks, that’s nice of you! Well, it was good to…”

“I told her you do a lot of work and that you are a good person.  But you still aren’t married are you?”

I sighed.  I had forgotten that this lady is obsessed with me getting married.

“Nope, still not married. “ I answered, rolling my eyes.

“Never mind.  Forget getting married!  You should just have a baby.”  She said as if she had invented the concept.

And then she put her hand low on my belly as I was standing over her and stroked upwards all the way up over my breasts and then back down again.

I froze.  All of my instincts were screaming “Escape! Abort! Get out!”  I tried to take a step backward to get further from her reach but I became trapped against the heavy plastic sheeting and was now teetering on the edge of the decking.  Any further moves backward would have resulted either in me on a heap on the floor in the High Street or – even worse- me in a heap on the floor in the high street with the entire plastic greenhouse on top of me.

belly

What I actually wanted to say.

The stroking continued, slow and steady and no less intrusive, as did the talking

“You could have a baby and forget the husband!  What a wonderful mum you would make.  And your parents would be so proud of you.  Why won’t you have a baby?”

My mouth was open, but no words were coming out.  Two thoughts were running through my head:  Firstly that we were in public and I was having my belly stroked.  People would assume I was pregnant already.  I have heard pregnant friends of mine describe how awful it feels to have their belly stroked by strangers and acquaintances.  Now I understood how they felt.  And I don’t have a baby.  Just a belly.  Secondly I thought – I hope the stroking doesn’t make me pregnant.

Such was the fervour that she was stroking me with I think she might have genuinely believed she could create a baby inside of me with the power of her mind.

I tried to think of a polite way out of things when instinctively I wanted to run away without saying another word. (Damn you female relatives, get out of my head and allow my instinct for self-preservation free range why don’t you?)

“Er, well, I have to go.  Thank you for sticking up for me.  I am too old to have children.  Goodbye.”

“Nonsense you are too old!  Women are having babies well into their forties these days. Give it some thought,” she continued. “A baby is a wonderful thing. Don’t you want to be a mother?”

“I am sure babies are wonderful.  I have to go to the bank.  Goodbye.”

“Goodbye lovely girl! See you soon! Think about it!  I want to hear some happy news soon!”  And as I was edging my way out of her reach space, she stopped stroking and gave me two pats on my belly.

I genuinely felt that she thought this was an appropriate and affectionate exchange.  It is the Greek system of invading personal boundaries that allows this woman to feel like we had a normal exchange and me (the repressed ‘English Greek’) to feel violated.  There seems to be absolutely no sense of decorum or personal space.  There is no question too awkward, no line too far, nothing to stop this woman from being as indiscreet as she sees fit.  And because of the roles we have chosen to occupy with each other, she feels a bit like she can talk to me like my mum would.  Hence no boundaries.  I would like to say at this point that my mum doesn’t stroke my belly and ask me why I don’t want babies every week.  Or even ever.  And I am totally ok with that.

Anyway.

Face aflame and breathless with discomfort, I went into the bank.

“Hello Miss Maria, you look blooming today!” said J-Lo the bank teller.  I giggled to myself.  He couldn’t possibly have known how funny his choice of words were, but I had to appreciate the timing of the remark.

So, if anyone saw me being molested in the High Street, there is no news.  I was merely being molested.  Next time, please come and rescue me, you heartless individuals.

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