Sometimes, my mind is absent. I move at a fast speed and because of this – as previous posts have shown – things don’t always go as planned. It is a family trait that will undoubtedly manifest itself later in life as Alzheimer’s but for now, as I am just 29, there is no medical term to describe it.
In my previous job, something uncomfortable happened one afternoon. I used to work in an office and the location of which was at the end of a really long, straight road on an industrial park. At one end of this 5 mile stretch was the office I worked in, and at the other end was Aldi, the popular discount supermarket – and the only store in which you can purchase tummy control pants in the same aisle as gardening shears. One afternoon, I found myself in the bakery section of this store when I noticed a lady (Rose) that I worked with a few metres away from me, also perusing the bakery section. Having never spoken to her physically (only by telephone) before, I thought a polite wave of acknowledgement would suffice. So I waved and hesitantly she waved back.
Thinking nothing more of this exchange, I got into my car; rolls purchased, and pulled out of the car park and made my merry way back to the office. On the other side of the road, I spotted Rose struggling with her shopping bags. Dilemma. Having never actually spoken to her before, I toyed with zooming past her but as she had definitely seen me she would know if I did this. My good heartedness won and I pulled the car over. My passenger window was stuck and no longer opened (due to an incident with a shopping trolley, a bag of mandarins and some toothpaste – a story for another time), I had to resort to sticking my head out of the sun roof. As my head emerged from the roof (like something out of a sci-fi film), I offered ‘can I give you a lift back to the office?’ To which she snapped my hand off with a hearty, ‘that’s great darling!’ And so she was in the car.
We had the usual polite small talk about her purchases and what great offers Aldi had on tinned fruit. During our conversation, I did begin to wonder why Rose had seemingly developed a strong West-Indian accent and not the Mancunian accent that I come to know. Maybe she put on a ‘show voice’ for the office. Anyway, I didn’t think twice about it and we continued our 5 mile journey.
Then, as with all my stories, the painful reality began to reveal itself:
Rose: “How long have you worked at Cardinal Insurance then?”
Me: “Do you mean Cotton’s, Rose?” (I was hoping that she was mistaken)
Rose: “Cotton’s? Who’s Rose?”
Me: “You don’t work at Cotton’s? You aren’t Rose?”
Rose: “Cotton’s? No, I work at Cardinal! I don’t know who Rose is love, but it not me.”
Her West-Indian accent was becoming stronger and my need for the toilet was increasing at an alarming rate. I wasn’t sure whether to stop the car or continue as I began to see some panic forming in her face. Maybe she thought I was a threat. To be honest, if I was her, I would also consider me a threat. I smiled at her, trying to calm her panic because, if I didn’t, I could end up in prison playing ‘where’s the soap’ with a woman called Gert.
I honestly couldn’t believe the horrible case of mistaken identity I had made. I must describe Rose to you. She is not an average person that you could confuse easily with someone else – she was a striking black woman at 6ft 3” tall. She wore a fabulous coloured scarf in her hair and the brightest red lipstick you have ever seen. Who knew she had a doppelganger?
I continued to drive as we remained in silence. Realising that my chance to save this was to turn this into more of a professional relationship, I took on the role of taxi driver, and she was my fare. “Where can I take you?” I asked.
This dance of me-taxi-driver-her-passenger (we had assumer our roles so convincingly that at one point I thought she might ask me ‘ever driven any famous people in your cab?’ or ‘when do you finish your shift?’) continued on the road for a further painful 5 minutes and then finally, we had arrived.
“You can pull in here,” the newly revealed Fake Rose pointed to the entrance. There it was, clear as day, ‘Cardinal Insurance’ in bold blue letters. I still secretly hoped that she had meant Cotton’s, but the weight in my heart told me otherwise. Without a glance back, she got out of my car, grabbed her shopping and disappeared into the building without a second look back. Who could blame her?
As I drove into the real Cotton’s, I could feel tears welling up and then falling. It was hysteria. By the time I got back to my desk, I was a mess of uncontrollable laughter, tears and above all, embarrassment. My audience of colleagues erupted with hilarity as I explained to them the events of the previous 10 minutes.
So, story told, everyone laughed and then it was back to work. My phone rang a few moments later and who should it be but the Real Rose. “I heard about your story and not all black people look the same you know.” And with that, she slammed the phone down. I was wrong, things did get worse, in the space of a few moments, I had gone from a comedy genius (self-proclaimed) to a massive racist. How the mighty had fallen.
The Real Rose and I settled our differences (she invited me for birthday cake after she realised that my mistake was not driven by racial intent, more misguided goodwill) and I never shopped in Aldi again. As for the Fake Rose, I don’t know what became of her. Hopefully she stopped accepting lifts from total strangers. That always puzzled me – I genuinely mistook her for someone else, who did she think I was? Did I have a doppelganger working at Cardinal Insurance? Let’s not got there.
The moral of this story – don’t accept lifts from strangers.