Ordinary People

20 Oct

If I had known I was going to meet the Queen I would have dressed up a little and put on some makeup. I wouldn’t have been in my sweaty running clothes, with a bleeding face and an ankle the size of a football. And I certainly wouldn’t have been cursing under my breath, using language that would make a sailor hang his head in shame.

Talk about making a good first impression.

I had woken up early, and because the morning looked so gorgeous, I decided to go for a run in Central Park. I only traveled to New York once every two years or so, and I relished the opportunity to run in the world’s most famous park.

On this warm Fall morning, the scenery was stunning. The sky was bright, bright blue and the vibrant reds and golds of Fall stretched as far as the eye could see. As I ran along at a brisk pace, admiring the scenery and letting the glorious sounds of early morning fill my ears, I felt at one with nature.

All of a sudden, right after I had started sprinting for my final stretch, the toe of my running shoe snagged on a branch that had fallen across the trail. I tried to right myself, but my forward momentum kept me off-balance, and I found myself crashing down onto the concrete pathway.

So much for being at one with nature. Now I was at one with the sidewalk.

With shaking legs, I got to my feet. I immediately knew that my ankle was in trouble. From the burning sensation on my cheek and the blood dripping down onto my shirt, I could tell that my face wasn’t in great shape either. My legs weren’t going to carry me very far, so I had two choices. I could stay on the path in a crumpled heap waiting for someone to help me, or I could stagger over to the nearby cluster of benches and wait until I had collected myself a little.

If I was going to wait for someone to help me, I would have died of old age, so I opted for the benches. All three of them were occupied. On the first bench, a couple were entwined in an unlikely fashion, snogging the daylights out of each other. An old lady sat on the second bench with her eyes closed, as if she was taking a nap. The third was occupied by a tall Jamaican man with purple dreadlocks, who was bopping energetically to the tune of whatever was coming out of his iPod. He was beaming beatifically at me, as if I looked like an angel instead of a road accident victim.

Hmmm. Did I want to share a bench with the canoodling couple, the bouncing music man, or the quiet old lady? I headed to the second bench, sank down onto it and closed my eyes.

My foot was already swelling up like a balloon, so I had to loosen my shoes to allow for the expansion. I tugged too hard at my shoelace and jerked my ankle, sending a wave of pain right through my leg. I swore in a high-pitched voice, using the kind of expletive my mother would have been horrified by. Then I remembered the little old lady catnapping on my left, and I clapped a hand over my mouth.

Using the water from my water bottle, I tried to rinse off my grazed cheek. I felt as if my face was on fire, and I kept cursing in pain. I kept my foul language to a whisper, in consideration for the sleeping old lady.

Clutching my water bottle, I looked around me for the first time, and almost jumped out of my skin. The sleeping old lady was no longer sleeping. She was wide awake, and she was staring at me with some bemusement.

“You seem to have had a bit of a tumble,” she said, in a posh British accent. “Are you all right?”

“I’ll be OK,” I replied. “I’m very sorry if I woke you up.”

She nodded in acknowledgement.

Her casual attire was at odds with the sense of formality that radiated from her. She was dressed in gray sweatpants, a blue sweatshirt with frayed cuffs, and running shoes that looked like they had seen better days. Her neat gray curls were topped with a baseball cap emblazoned with the words “The Aliens Are Coming.”

As I peered at her, I realized that she looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her. I was undoubtedly seeing her out of context, but I definitely recognized her from somewhere. All of a sudden the synapses in my brain connected her face to a picture I had seen in a discarded newspaper on the subway the previous day.

The old lady must have noticed the spark of recognition.

“Oh, bollocks,” she said with a sigh. “You know who I am.”

This was utterly bizarre. Had the Queen of England just said the word “bollocks” to me? Was she really sitting here beside me wearing a cap that said the aliens were coming?

“You’re staring, dear,” said the Queen gently.

“Sorry!” I said. “This is just… it’s just that…” I gave up and gestured vaguely.

Then a thought struck me.

“Do the British people know you’re here?” I asked sternly, as if I was asking a teenager if her parents knew where she was.

“Sometimes I like to just bugger off and do what I want,” said the Queen, with an air of defiance.

I could understand that. Being the Queen must be dreadful sometimes. But she was sitting here in the middle of Central Park by herself. Wasn’t she worried about being mugged or something? I wondered if the occupants of the other two benches were bodyguards.

A man in his forties wearing a pair of overalls approached along the path, neatly sidestepped the branch I had fallen over, and stopped in front of the Queen. He offered her a Starbucks cup and said, “Here’s your coffee, Lizzie.”

Lizzie?

The Queen graciously accepted the coffee, and then politely rattled off instructions for the man to find a First Aid kit for me. As he trotted away, she turned to catch me gawking at her in astonishment.

“I’m sorry,” I said, my face turning red with embarrassment. “This is just so weird. I’m sitting in Central Park with the Queen of England. You’re wearing a baseball cap and you say words like ‘bollocks’. You drink Starbucks. That guy called you Lizzie.”

“Well, he’s been a close friend of my family’s for 23 years. What else would he call me?”

She had a point, I guess. I could hardly expect her friends to be calling her “Your Majesty” all the time. I glanced over at her to speak, and to my horror, I noticed a single tear coursing its way down her face. And with a flash of insight, I could completely understand why.

Here was this woman, rich and famous beyond belief, with all of the material possessions anyone could want. She had money, a family, a legacy, an indelible place in history. And yet in many ways, I had more freedom than her. I could go running in Central Park whenever I wanted. I could dress how I liked without worrying about what the media would think. I could walk into a coffee shop or a grocery store and just do my thing. If I needed a vacation, I didn’t have to sneak out of the country without telling anyone. This woman was owned by the public. Every move she made was watched. She was a public icon, sometimes admired, sometimes scorned. All she wanted was the opportunity to be an ordinary person once in a while.

The Queen, whose public image portrayed her as being tough and implacable, seemed suddenly to be a vulnerable old lady.

My face was still bleeding and I was a mess, but somehow I didn’t think she would care. Beside me, I saw a human being in need of comforting. So I reached over and gave her a hug.

Because that’s what ordinary people do.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Billy Flynn, who gave me this prompt: You sit down on a bench in Central Park. At first you pay no attention to the person next to you; when you do glance over you realize it’s someone who’s famous, super-rich or powerful – your call; how do you use this chance meeting?
I challenged Tobie with the prompt: You’re a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. One of the patients, who is known to be delusional, tells you something that could solve a decades-old murder case in your town. Do you believe the patient and investigate? Or do you write the patient off as being an unreliable source of information?

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7 Responses to “Ordinary People”

  1. Sarah Cass October 20, 2011 at 3:13 PM #

    OMG. What a hoot! I absolutely loved this. As much as I enjoyed the queen, I have to admit, my favorite line had nothing to do with her it was:

    “So much for being at one with nature. Now I was at one with the sidewalk.”

    Maybe because it is so something I would do & say 😀

  2. Billy Flynn October 21, 2011 at 10:01 AM #

    Kirsten, you rocked this prompt! I’m always so interested to see where people will go with their prompts; with this one the obvious is to save the world or get a rant out on behalf of the rest of us. You chose empathy, compassion and caring of a single soul-awesome job. I loved this post! The Queen, perfect, Lizzie no less!

    • runningforautism October 21, 2011 at 10:17 AM #

      Thanks, Billy! I had tons of fun with this prompt – thank you!

  3. Carrie October 21, 2011 at 2:41 PM #

    I love the idea of the Queen taking off on a vacation. She probably would love to be ordinary for a day or two.

  4. S Club Mama - Randi November 2, 2011 at 10:55 AM #

    oh dang, I thought this was real! You got me, you’re such a good writer.

    • runningforautism November 2, 2011 at 10:20 PM #

      LOL wouldn’t that be something, meeting the Queen! Thanks for reading!

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