The day Maggie died was the day I stopped travelling on the bus. Each morning at 09.30 prompt, on service 134 into town, I saw her; red hair pushed haphazardly under a cap with thick clumps poking out. And Ginger, snooping and sniffing the hedgerow, his long shaggy hair almost the colour of her own. I refrained from banging on the window as our paths crossed on the edge of the park.
Maggie… dear Maggie. How would she feel if she knew I’d been stalking her all these years? Would it have changed things? I wonder; but I’ll never know.
She was no oil painting, mind. Short and dumpy, over the years she’d piled on the pounds. Even her dress sense was odd. She’d worn the same winter coat since 1970; a big woollen rug of a thing with polar bears decorating the bottom half. Ginger didn’t mind how she looked. He’d jump up and splatter mud on her face whenever he felt a rush of love.
That’s how I felt back then; a rush of love for the ‘pie lady.’ I was just a hot headed kid; lost my job, stomped out of home and sought solace with some old winos on the embankment. Along came the do-gooders with cauldrons of soup and buckets of sympathy; and Maggie. Twice a week she parked up her battered mini and inelegantly clambered into the back. From a bottomless pit located somewhere amidst the cramped leg space, she proceeded to retrieve a hoard of drool-making, steaming hot pies; a belly growling delight of freshly baked meat and potato, that tickled the nostrils of every down and out in town.
She wasn’t like the others. Maggie was a one man band… plus dog. She sat in the muck and ate pie with us. She joked and laughed, but never asked questions; never judged. I became obsessed. I needed to know who she was. Why she cared, and cared so hands on; so selflessly. I saw those mischievous dark eyes darting around. Were they resting on me more than others? Was she feeling the connection too?
Aw man, hark at me; an overgrown kid. Filthy; homeless; penniless. Who am I kidding?
What’s the dog’s name?” I ventured.
“Ginger,” she said. “They’re all called Ginger.”
“You’ve more than one?”
“No!” She tossed back her head and chortled. “Just one at a time.” So the pie lady replaces a dog with a look-alike--to call him Ginger?
“Hum, I see the logic.”
“No you don’t,” she says teasingly, “’Cos there isn’t none. I don’t do logic.”
“Really?” I wrestled an urge to blab something stupid and embarrass myself. I was being sucked into her magic at alarming speed. “Are you… um, are you with someone?” She looked around furtively, before leaning up close.
“One dog, you and several waifs and strays.” Now it was my turn to laugh. The ice was broken so I jumped right in.
“Okay, so you’ve no ties?”
“Oh, I have ties! No man; but ties.” The plot thickens. I felt I shouldn’t pursue this line of inquisition. I may have been a reprobate drop out, but I had principles; and an intuitive temperament. “I’m tied to you,” she said eventually. “And him; and him; and her.” She nodded toward the motley crew licking gravy from fingers.
“You’re religious.” I said flatly. “What a shame.” She fixed her eyes on me.
“I don’t do religion either.” Then what? I was struggling. I didn’t push but her stare freaked me out. “My father lived here, on this embankment. They had a row. Mum said he’d be back when he cooled down.” I didn’t ask the question. “The maggots found him first, under the bridge.”I tried not to squirm. “What a waste; trading life and health for pride and bitterness.” This was intense. I looked away but she hadn’t done yet. “And you ask about my ties? I’m tied to the Lord Jesus and his teachings. This is where he sends me. He’s with me now, speaking to me; speaking through me.”
I felt awkward, discomforted. I didn’t know what to say; I said nothing. And in a heart-beat she was bubbly as ever. Feisty and spirited; in love with life, but far more in love with God. That woman made a terrific impact on my life. And she never knew the outcome.
Maggie… dear Maggie. Until we meet again; together forever... united in God’s love.
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