Are you a doctor? Is that why you’re around the corner from the hospital?
For a split-second, I am impressed with myself. But it’s a trick. Even my Jewish grandmother never mistook me for a doctor.
Flattery will get you absolutely everywhere, but I can’t make too much eye contact. She might assume I’m friendly enough to chit-chat.
Well what do you do then?
She sits down next to me. The bench creaks.
Transport planning? Like with cars? I had a great idea for a car: It’s like a Fiat 500 but not as skinny as a Fiat 500. You know the Fiat 500? Well, they’re quite small, aren’t they? It’d be like a Fiat 500, but it would take up a bit more of the road. Still compact, like you’d expect of a Fiat 500, but a bit more room.
I can’t decide whether to ask if her idea is anything like a Fiat 500 or to introduce her to the word “wider.”
I had that idea, but of course it was stolen. People are always stealing my ideas.
I lose the standoff and immediately regret the question.
Well, the last time it was an oral history initiative. It was down at the synagogue. I thought it might be a great idea—well, my husband thought of it—but then I said we really should do an oral history. Down at the Bevis Marks Synagogue. Have you heard of the Bevis Marks Synagogue?
[wonderment that I’ve heard of Bevis Marks redacted for brevity]
So then they stole that idea and now the Prince of Wales is down at the Bevis Marks Synagogue with my oral histories. I told them I’m desperate to help, of course. And y’know what they said?
I wonder what percentage of this content is true. I jot down a mental note that I know will just smudge away.
They said “call us during operating hours.” Can you imagine? The nerve. But what else have I got to do? I live just up the road! Now all these stories are lost!
I pull my coat around myself against an imaginary chill and will our problems away.
It’s a Sephardic synagogue, y’know. Bevis Marks. I used to go there all the time before I moved up the road. My husband’s Ashkenazi. You can’t imagine how horrible his family is to me. His mother, last week? She gave me a bag of cashews. Yes. A clear plastic bag of them. Oh, the nerve. His sister, too. She gave me half a cake. Can you imagine?
It sucks to be comfortable enough with a stranger to laugh at them but have enough context to not.
It’s because I’m Sephardic, of course! And you know these people—these supposedly educated people—well, they don’t think women should be doctors. They think I should just move to Harrow. I have a place in Harrow, did y’know that? But I can’t stay around these people, can I?
Ultimately, I concede, I misread her conversational desperation for nefariousness. There’s a fine line between street-smart and assuming all strangers are trying to con you. But, even now, I don’t know if I want to risk empathy.
Listen, do you think it’s fair? I want to know. Is it fair that I have to go live in Harrow just so you can live this modern Jewish lifestyle? I don’t think it’s fair. Do you? Do you think that’s right?
I didn’t expect to feel so indignant. I barely live any kind of Jewish lifestyle; she might as well have accused me of living as a Mexican woman. Perhaps the indignance just makes it easier to walk away. To politely excuse myself without having to consider if she’s lonely or off her meds or both. The nerve. I already decided who was the victim here.