little my and the bear

Minton Green is a blandly perfect, municipal kind of heaven. A development for supported living so new and pristine it’s like I’ve been miniaturised and placed in an architect’s model. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the top of the building lift away and a cluster of gigantic faces peer down to see how I interact with the lobby; instead, what happens is an elderly woman wanders over and asks what I’m doing. She’s wearing a black and yellow square pattern dress that flares at the hips like a bell, her silver hair is swept up into a top-knot, and her face is so pale the intricate threads of her veins run in clear blue patterns across her temple like satellite shots of river courses from space. She has a serious expression, but there’s something hazily sweet about her, too, more a girl of five than a woman of eighty. She reminds me of someone, a fictional character, Little My from the Moomin books.
‘I’m waiting for my colleague’ I tell her. ‘She said she’d be about ten minutes.’
‘Well sit down and talk to me instead,’ she says, and without waiting to see what I think about that, marches off into a wide, communal lounge. There’s no-one else there, except for a large, caramel coloured teddy bear in one of the bucket seats in the window.
‘Come on’ says the woman, and she goes and sits next to the bear.
‘I had a lovely day today,’ she says, as I put my bag down and sit with her. ‘Me and my friends went out to lunch.’
‘Well it’s a nice, sunny day for lunch!’ I say. ‘Where did you go?’
‘The high street,’ she says. ‘Near the old pet shop.’
‘Famous’ I tell her. ‘Lovely.’
‘I want to get a parakeet,’ she says.
‘A parakeet! Wow! That’s exotic!’
‘Or maybe the other one. You know. Smaller.’
‘Budgerigar?’
‘Hamster’
I can’t help laughing.
‘What’s funny about hamsters?’ she says.
‘No, no. Nothing. It’s just – I can never see the point of them. They only come out at night. And then they run round in a squeaky wheel and drive you nuts.’
‘Oh – I wouldn’t mind that. I’m a good sleeper. What do you think of my bear?’
She reaches across and grabs the teddy, squeezing it to her. It’s so big she has to lean round to the side to look at me. The bear has an alarmed expression, its arms up left and right and its eyes bulging, as if she’s squeezing too hard.
‘I bought him in a charity shop. I’m going to give him a wash later, as a treat.’
‘He’ll love that. Just don’t put him in the washing machine,’ I say. ‘He’ll come out a cub’
‘Is that your friend?’ she says, suddenly tossing the bear to the side and leaning forwards to get a better view through the window.
‘No. I think that’s a postman.’
‘Oh. Where are they, then?’
‘I don’t know. She said ten minutes.’
‘It’s been longer than ten minutes, hasn’t it? Well – hasn’t it?’
‘Yes. I suppose it has.’
We sit there, staring through the window.
Two carers come into the lounge, each pushing a resident in a wheelchair. I half expect them to say something about me sitting there in the window with Little My and a giant bear, but they just nod and smile as if I’m a resident, too. And for one, dizzying moment I wonder if I am.

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