"I'm worried that you keep leaving your handbag there. Someone could nick it."
A female staff member in her late 50s barked this at me. We were at a work event at a local public park, supervising the play-doh tent for a community festival. I met this woman a few moments ago in the swap of staff members from the previous shift. While she sat on a chair in the far corner of the tent, not engaging with the children (which she was sort of supposed to be doing), I was bending over praising a small child about her little house, dog and tree creations which her 4-year-old fingers tirelessly kneaded together.
"Oh, I'm not too worried," I smiled regarding my handbag's distance from me, "I run pretty fast."
"It's because you're too young to understand," she shot back. "You're still at that age where you think you're invincible. You just think you can do anything, and it's because you haven't been through any hardship in your life."
My ears pricked up, side of mouth curved. Now I was offended. Never mind my Father's passing away at 19, my family's subsequent financial and emotional hardships, broken relationships and the like; to this woman, I had definitely not been through any suffering purely due to my age and stage of life.
"I'm flattered that you think I'm so young," I said, trying to diffuse the growing tension in the exchange, "but I'm really not that young."
"Oh really?" she said with a cock of her head, "how old are you then?"
"Take a guess," I tried to smile in a light hearted way, although incredibly uncomfortable at the unwarranted hostility coming from this worker I had met literally 30 minutes ago.
"Hmm well, girls of your cultural background tend to look much younger than they are, so I'd say you were about 30."
"I'd say you were correct," and I hoped now she would shut up.
Instead, as if she was a shot-and-fired bullet from a cosmological gun, she said "You know given everything I've been through in my life, 30 is still quite young, you know I'm 57, and you just realise when you become more mature that life isn't so easy, that you have to face reality. And girls of your age don't know that. You just think you're indispensable."
My heartbeat grew faster, even as I tried to sassily deter her with comments like "Oh yes, 57, that is quite old," and "Yes, maybe it's time for you to get life insurance," I could not believe this woman's level of venom-intensity. Something about my youth clearly triggered something deep inside her, enough to emotionally assassinate a complete stranger in a what-should-be professional context.
In that heated exchange I mired through the reasons why she felt it justified to speak to someone... anyone - let alone a random stranger - like that.
My colleague, who had heard most of this conversation take place and did not engage, was a Mother of four daughters, a year shy of her 39th birthday. We broke off from our shift together, a hurried farewell away from the tension.
"Wow," she said, no longer within earshot, "I couldn't believe the way she was speaking to you. That woman must be really insecure."