“Your life is ‘The Truman Show’. There are actors out there preparing scenes to play out in front of you, I’m sure of it.”
This is what my friend said after I recounted something that happened to me this week.
Maybe he’s right. See what you think.
I was going back to work after being up at the house for a sandwich and to see how some urgent repairs were coming along. I parked my car where I always park it, grabbed my bag, and locked the car up. As I was locking, I noticed what was happening a few cars further on. There was a small cohort of people gathered around a car, peering in. They looked like a young husband and wife and a Grandma and that’s what they turned out to be.
The husband was poised at one of the rear passenger door windows and the fact that he was wielding an unwound coat-hanger immediately told me (and probably tells you too) what he was doing. I pride myself on being quite good at getting locked car doors open with a coat hanger, I’ve done it several times in my life, so I walked down to see if I could offer any assistance.
The husband had indeed locked his keys in the car, they were dangling there in plain sight in the ignition but that wasn’t the most notable thing about the set up. There were some other things in there, as well as those dangling keys.
There were two children locked in the car too.
In the front passenger seat, there perched a boy, no more than a toddler, and in the back seat, strapped into her chair, a little person who I guessed was his baby sister.
“Can I help?” I asked.
The husband seemed glad to give up the coat-hanger immediately, “I reckon you might do better than me.” I reckoned so too because his hands were quite large. I took up the challenge.
But before I got stuck in with the clothes hanger in earnest, I thought there was one other fairly obvious solution to explore. Could the toddler be persuaded to come over to the driver’s seat, pull the ignition key and push the central locking button to open the door? Well, no, as it happens, he couldn’t. He was far too happy in his own seat and no amount of cajoling from me could get him to move.
As I started working the clothes hanger, I noted that my cajoling seemed to have had a curious side effect on the four people peering into the car with me. Yes, four, a sister of somebody had emerged from the adjoining front door of the little terraced house where they all clearly resided. This side effect was strange. An air of jollity and general hilarity had descended on everybody, including the two kids inside the car. There was laughter and teasing and a general atmosphere of bonhomie about the affair. The only person not feeling this seemed to be me.
You know how to open a rear passenger door with a coat hanger, yes? The general idea is that you can sometimes push down the window a little to open a crack at the top and then you poke the untwisted steel hanger in the crack and you try to get the end loop over the opening lever inside the door. If you manage it, you give the wire a good tug and the door pops open. It can be done. It’s tricky though.
“Ohhh, you nearly had it then.” The husband provided encouragement from the window on the other side of the car as the children giggled and smiled out at me. I tried again.
Then my phone rang. It was the repair man back at my house. I needed to take it. I asked the husband to take over with the coat hanger for a minute and stepped up the road a few paces to take the call.
I can’t have been more than a minute into the conversation when all hell broke loose back at the car. Suddenly there was no more laughing or giggling. Suddenly, everybody was shouting, wailing and, yes screaming. I hung up and ran back. What was it? What had happened?
It didn’t take long to see. The toddler in the front had evidently become bored and had unclipped himself and toddled into the back seat with his little sister. He had then taken her fingers in his mouth and started chewing on them, perhaps as a teething aid. The little sister was singularly not amused by this and had started roaring like the proverbial buck ass.
Perhaps the laughter and jollity of a few moments ago had been a precursor to genuine hysteria for that was now what had broken out outside of the car. The three woman folk, all two generations of them, seemed to go from ‘okay’ to ‘completely not okay’ in the space of a split second. They were shouting and screaming at the top of their voices.
“He’s eating the baby.”
“He’ll bite her fingers off.”
The Granny was winning the hysteria sweepstakes by running around screaming (and, sorry about this, but she was), “the child is dead, the child is dead.”
The Poor Husband was utterly bewildered. The relative calm and patience required to pull off the coat hanger trick was now only the dimmest memory. It was hard to know what to do.
The women knew though. All three of them knew at once.
“Break the window.”
“Break the window.”
(“He’s eating the child.”)
“Break the window.”
Can I just say, from where I was standing, the child was fine. Yes, the toddler was chewing/gumming her fingers and, yes, the child was screaming blue murder as a result but the level of agitation among the adults did not seem warranted to me, someone who is no stranger to agitation. I felt I should explain that to allow myself to smile at what happened next.
The husband ran into the open door of the adjoining house and there were sounds of drawers being torn out in the search to find something to break the window with. All the while the hysterical cacophony continued and I was powerless to intervene.
Then, after a strange moment’s silence that seemed to come from nowhere, in a moment worthy of the ‘Gourmet Night’ episode of Fawlty Towers, the poor Husband re-emerged, blinking, into the daylight, with a plastic soup ladle in his fist. He then proceeded to batter the side window of the car, completely ineffectually, with the plastic ladle.
Because I did not see the kids as being in danger, I couldn’t help but see this as a lovely moment but I also knew the pantomime had to end soon or else something really bad could happen. So I ran, back to my car, threw open my boot and found my tyre iron. If the window needed breaking, and it seemed clear now that it did, I felt it was time to get on with it.
But as I arrived back at the car, tyre iron in hand. The husband had just managed to break the window with a rock from the ground. Before I could say a word, the children were swept wailing from the car, the entire cohort were rushed into the little house, and the front door was unceremoniously crashed shut in my face.
It was over. It was time to go back to work.
You can see why my friend might think that Shakespeare’s sentiment ‘all the world’s a stage’ seems to apply a bit more to me that it does to others.
What the hey?
At least it’s never dull.