The other day I pulled into a gas station. Now I always fill the car myself because I saw on TV how tank topping is a wasteful thing to do. But if you leave the attendants to do it, even when the nozzle stops automatically, they keep pumping until they reach the next nearest dollar. So, to save the worlds environment, I always cease immediately with the auto stop. However this can cause arguments with the service station people who also want to hold the pump handle for employment reasons, and don’t understand my love for global ecology.
Anyway this young Maori woman comes out to try and wrest the device from me. I reach into my Dale Carnegie library on such occasions, to turn the conversation. Her hair was in a bun, and it had blonde streaks in it.
‘I love your hair colour’, I said.
‘Oh, you’re not supposed to notice’, giggling away, then, ‘which colour do you like?’
‘Which colour was I supposed to like?’
‘The dark of course.’
‘I love the dark colour of your hair.’
She reached back and freed it, shaking it loose.
‘Wow,’ I said, falling in love. ‘It’s beautiful.’
‘Yes, it’s the chemotherapy that does it.’
It hit me hard. No, hit is not the right word. Emotional wave perhaps – surge, gush, heave. I stood there, looking at her. Silenced.
She went on. ‘If I don’t do it, I’ll die. I’ve been bad, but now I’m doing it.’
Her brittleness started to surface. I could feel it welling up, synchronised with my rising tears. What could I say, in the transience of a gas station? I wanted to touch her, and I knew if I had, it would have been received. Even without words, we both knew that if I did that, it was not sexual, it would convey what I meant to convey, and it would have brought the grief to expression in both of us.
But I didn’t. I didn’t reach out and touch her. We walked to the cashier together, she telling me the inadequate phrase that ‘it didn’t matter, life was meant for the living.’
I walked away from the fleeting connection, and climbed back into my red sports car.
Turned on the CD player. Started some music.