She had a million things to do that day. Five shopping days till Xmas: there was food to buy, presents to wrap and airport runs to pick up various family members as they arrived.
She was out on a couple of errands and needed to check the air pressure in her car tyres on the way home. She hated checking the tyres but wanted to make sure the car was OK for all the taxi work she would be doing in the next couple of weeks.
After she finished at the shop, she pulled into the garage. The air pump was in an area off to the side and someone was using it. There was a bay adjacent to the pump bay where the car was parked, but then she noticed one at right angles to it and if she waited there, it would make it easier to swing her car into the pump bay.
She sat with the engine running and as the other car pulled out, indicated left. Before she had the chance to move though, another car drove through from the garage and nipped into the bay.
She thought about leaving it but then saw the driver, a man in his late fifties or sixties, glance towards her car as he got out. Dammit! He has seen her waiting and knew he had jumped the queue. She pulled her car in next to his and approached him as he got out to use the pump.
‘Excuse me!’ she said, and then, louder when he tried to ignore her, ‘EXCUSE ME, SIR.’
He looked up without responding,
‘I was waiting to use that pump. I have been waiting for a good few minutes and you have just barged in ahead of me.’
If she was expecting an apology, she was wrong.
‘Did you use the petrol station?’
‘Did you use the petrol station?’
‘No I didn’t,’ she replied. ‘What has that got to do with anything?’
He moved towards the pump. She noticed that he was wearing a polo T-shirt tucked into a pair of belted jeans, the jeans had been ironed and had a sharp crease down the front, just like how nobody with any sense of how to wear jeans likes to wear them.
‘You didn’t use the petrol station,’ he replied, ‘This pump is for petrol station customers. If you want to use the pump you have to wait.’
He was wearing beige shoes. She bet his wife bought him those too, on the odd occasion that she was not at home pressing a lovely crease into his jeans with her fancy steam iron.
‘What has that got to do with anything?’ She retorted, ‘I am a customer of this petrol station, I use it every week to fill up my car. Just because I have not used it today, does not entitle you to get special preferences.’
He was keying in the pressure on the machine to pre-set the pump. He had a shiny bald head with a thin rim of hair running around it in a semi-circle.
‘You were not sitting in the right bay,’ he said. ‘People who want to use the air pump should be in this bay,’ – at this he indicated towards his car – ‘or that one.’ He pointed at the bay adjacent to his.
‘No,’ she argued, ‘I don’t think that is correct.’ There three bays here around this pump and just because I was in the one at right angles to these two, does not make me a second- class citizen. There is no rule about the bays here, plus,’ at this she prepared to deliver the sucker punch, ‘I was indicating. You saw me and deliberately jumped the queue.’
He was now kneeling by the driver’s side front tyre, unscrewing the dust cap. On the side of his bald head she noticed an ugly lump, or series of lumps growing on his head. They looked like the skin was bubbling up. Maybe that was where his wife had hit him over the head with her iron as he slept.
‘Look,’ he said, ‘I will just be a minute.’
So that was it. It had nothing to do with the petrol station, or the bay. It was that she was a woman. He had seen her indicating and decided that if a woman got him ahead of him he would be waiting for ages while she squinted at the machine, tried to remember the psi number for the tyres, worked out how to get the nozzle of the air gun over the tyre valve and stopped and started as the air filled the wheel, afraid that she would blow it up because these things were the realm of the man. He had looked at her and made a snap judgement.
‘You,’ she said, ‘are a very rude man.’
He moved around the four tyres quickly as she refused to budge from the spot beside his car, staring at him.
Maybe that lump was cancer. He had a bald head, maybe the sun had got to it and now there was a big tumour growing on his scalp. Maybe he didn’t know how long he had left, or perhaps he was going to start treatment soon and they did not know what the outcome was going to be. Maybe he was checking his tyres because his wife WAS one of the women who did not know how to use an air gun and he wanted to get things straightened out before it as too late. Maybe that was why he was in such a hurry.
He approached her with the pump, with his shiny bald head, and his neat belted jeans with the crease down the front, with his clean beige shoes. She was suddenly acutely aware of how scruffy she must look. Her hair scraped back in a ponytail, a misshapen old T-shirt on that she had just thrown on over jeans while she got a few errands run. Well all the same, he had no right to judge her. She was going to take the higher ground.
Rather than hang the pump up, he held it out to her as he went past on the way back to his car.
‘Here you are,’ he said.
‘I hope you have a very Merry Xmas,’ she replied.
That showed him.