On my way to the shops to buy the most mundane of groceries, I encountered a woman walking backward down the street. I immediately assumed it was a temporary measure on her part: she had dropped something and was returning to get it, or maybe she was dragging something heavy. But she just kept coming. Her head was twisted back over her right shoulder, with a look of glee and pride on her face. She took each step with deliberation, but with an attempt to inject speed. I began to worry about her. She walked smoothly enough, but she was an old woman. There was a stiffness to her gait. She needed to be careful ‘at her age’; any tumble backwards could cause serious damage to her brittle bones.
She stuck in my mind afterwards,as you can see. I wanted to know why she walked backwards. It was obviously something she did a lot, and got great pleasure from. But was it something she’s been doing since childhood? Something she used to do and rediscovered in her elder years? How exactly does a person discover they have a talent for walking backwards? Does she believe she is the envy of the community because of her talent?
I never really thought I would find out the answers to my questions, or probably ever see her again. But as I filled my kettle at the kitchen sink one morning a couple of months later, I caught a glimpse of her in the alleyway outside. She was playing chase with her grand-daughter, who was cackling wildly with laughter. But by the time the kettle had boiled and I had located my mug from its resting-place, the happy scene had changed. Now the little girl was standing sullenly with a sulky pout on her face… the perfect picture of a child in a sulk. The grandmother had taken over the stage – she was marching backwards up one side of the alley and down the other, with that same fierce pride in her face. The poor girl either couldn’t compete or knew nothing could compete with walking backwards for her grandmother’s attention. I still had no answers to my questions, and would probably never be any the wiser. All I could hope for was that the old lady would never discover that pride quite often comes before a fall.