You know how it is when you get older. Something pops out of your mouth and barely has it left your lips when you hear the echo of your mother or your father or some other family member in your words - "If you break your leg, don't you come running to me!"
That kind of thing.
Well, in my case, something astonishing is happening. I'm turning into my Auntie Maureen. Let me explain: Maureen is my mother's older sister. When we were young, we always thought she looked quite stern - she's quite a straight talker, Maureen. You'll know where you stand with her. However, rather than appearing forbidding, she seems to able to extract the most intimate confessions from complete strangers. Whenever she travels by public transport, she disembarks with a handbag full of deep, dark secrets. Once, on a train to Dublin, she sat beside a young woman who felt compelled to share details of her S&M lifestyle. Share stories, photos and Wikipedia pages on her phone (because, God bless her, Maureen really didn't have a notion what it was, so the young woman decided to elucidate with informative Internet articles) with a 70+-year-old widow travelling to the nation's capital on her senior citizens' travel pass to do a bit of shopping and have a nice cup of coffee and an iced bun in some comfortable café. ("I told her it was all a heap of nonsense," Maureen declared decisively. "I said if any fellow tried to smack me, I'd give him a good, hard smack right back!" Clearly, Maureen did not understand the appeal of bondage.)
This is what I am turning into. I, however, have a very specific audience: children and senior citizens. I cannot begin to repeat some of the stories I have been told by the elderly: many of whom are now in their eighties and nineties and have a compulsion to tell a random foreigner stories of a childhood in the Third Reich (-> confusing), of having babies in the 1950s (-> scary and disgusting), finding husbands in bed with other women (-> also confusing) or their miscarriages (-> words fail me.) I must have a very priest-like countenance to inspire these confessions. I don't ask them, honest. People literally stop me on the street and tell me things. Oftentimes, they just plonk their zimmer frame in my path and hold me captive, sometimes they just smile at me and I smile back. And they're off!
But that's one thing: they're choosing to tell me these things and I choose to file them away in a big drawer labelled 'RANDOM SECRETS' in my mind. However, I seem to have the same effect on small children, and they'll tell me anything about anyone, no holds barred. When I deliver my son at kindergarten, I am often surrounded, Pied Piper-like, by half-a-dozen small children vying to tell me their family secrets. They bypass other parents, including their own, to corner me and start talking at me. Did I know that Mama and Papa had a fight this morning and Mama called Papa an idiot? Did I know that Papa got a new motorbike and banged his privates on it? Did I know that Mama was at the dentist and when she came home, she cried? The head of the kindergarten wades in and sends them off back to their macaroni sculptures and board books, while I stagger home, traumatised by the amount of unwanted information I have just been given.
I report back to my husband and he shakes his head. "Why do you get involved in this kind of thing?" he asks, as though I had a choice.
"I just look at them," I protest. And, really, I do. I look at them and stuff pours forth. So I'm coming to terms that whatever it is Maureen has, I have it, too. One of these days I'm going to read up on S&M, just to be prepared for future conversations on trains.
I really should keep my head down more.