Watch out! It’s behind you!

Can you feel her laboured breath on the back of your neck? Perhaps you have heard her warning call- an open-ended muttered conversation with herself as she asserts her supremacy over the other animals? A classic aggressive warning call is ‘Quien es la ultima?’ (this means ‘Who’s last in the queue?’ and if you don’t own up, or worse, if you are confused enough not to know that it’s you, there’ll be trouble.) One minute she will be behind you, then- how the Hell did she do that? – she will be in front of you. The only thing you will feel is the sharp prod of her elbows as she shoves you out of the way. If she fixes her gimlet eye on you it’s best not to make eye contact, to melt, chameleon-like into the background, in which case you may be able to avoid an altercation. But don’t wind her up, for God’s sake, or you’ll be sorry. If you are unlucky enough to hear the approach of her vicious little hooves as she pounces on you I advise you to run. Like Hell. As potential prey in the urban jungle, this is one of your most dangerous predators and it´s best to avoid an encounter at all costs.

She’s easy to spot: Short and squat, like a matchbox with a sturdy leg attached at each lower corner. Weilding a handbag, monarch-style, at the elbow, and possibly trailing a shopping trolley. Hair is worn bull-dyke short in a ‘one-style-fits-all’ helmet, often sprayed into place with extra-strength hairspray, and it will be tinted a kind of squirrel-shit brown. The walking matchbox effect will be accentuated by the choice of boxy clothing: anything with mean shoulder pads. Her facial markings are usually pronounced- deep lines around a mouth which has been pursed for decades in disapproval and regret. And the eyes are the most terrifying of all. They are what give her away as a predator- roving, accusatory instruments of malice. She is small but lethal, so don’t be fooled by the inoccuous appearance. She has a deadly bite. I am talking about the Evil Old Lady.

First of all, let me point out that by no means are all old spanish ladies evil. Some of them are absolutely charming. Like the lady I queued behind at the checkout in Carrefour recently, whose (one-sided) conversation with the check-out girl went something like this:

‘Oh, thank you, dear, that’s very kind of you. Could you put it in the bag for me? Oh that’s so kind of you, thank you. I can’t do it myself, I’m 90, you know. Look at these wrinkly old hands! Eleven euros fifty-five? One moment, let me just get my purse out… Hard to see these days, you know, I am 90 after all. Here you are, you take the money, pick out the right change would you, my love, I can’t see a thing. I’m 90, you know. Oh that’s lovely, thank you so much. See you next week then, dear. Did I tell you I’m 90?’ She was the sort of old lady who makes you want to adopt her as your own pet grandma. Everything an old lady should be: sweet, fluffy, slightly scatty and delighted to talk to strangers. And believe me, if it was me who was 90, I’d wear it as a badge of honour as well, and would probably tell everyone. Every few minutes.

But I’m not talking about that kind of old lady. I’m talking about the Brothers Grimm kind . I am well aware of how pathetic this sounds, but I no longer shop at the spectacular open markets in Madrid, partly because of the fiendishly complicated queueing system, the immediate onset of The Fear as soon as the grocer/baker/butcher turns to you and asks for your order (it’s like a spotlight on you as you recite as quickly and accurately as possible the name and quantity of everything you want in a foregin language, to a background of sighs and impatient tuts. I never had a stutter, but I develop one in open markets), the collosal amount of time it takes to do the rounds of every stall, but mostly because I’m shit-scared of the Evil Old Ladies. If you dare to challenge them with a self-effacing,

‘Er… excuse me, but I think it was my turn?….’ they’ll have you. I have been pushed aside, growled at, shoved, insulted, and perhaps worse, given the evil eye by many an old lady here in Madrid. They hate me- I’m younger than them, I’m foreign, and a natural blonde. Well, more or less. More than they’ll ever be, anyway. And what really, really winds them up is the fact that I’m easy-going and possibly a happy human being who enjoys her life and is relatively content with the way things have turned out.

I am not devoid of sympathy. You only need to take a look at these women’s faces to see what hard lives they have had. The disappointment and bitterness are evident. But the fact that you are a dethroned matriarchal tyrant whose powers are waning and whose family doesn’t appreciate all the years of hard graft, and you are now forced to watch a generation of (semi) liberated young women rise up and enjoy all the things you never could IS NOT MY FAULT. Maybe the killer instinct is activated by the sickening scent of pheramones wafting from me, or the unbearable knowledge that like Carrie Bradshaw, I know good sex (and you don’t, and probably haven’t been anywhere near a penis for over thirty years, and when you last did you didn’t enjoy it much either), but please, none of this gives you the right to bite my head off. I doubt I will ever stop being a target for these pocket Eva Brauns, so in the meantime I am determined to hone my fight or flight instinct, and to steer well clear whenever possible. And I’d advise you to do the same.

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One Response to “Watch out! It’s behind you!”

  1. christine hass Says:

    I quite fancy being one of those when I’m older! Why should beautiful blonds have all the fun.

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