It was lunchtime in the city on a sunny, cool, spring Friday. Belly full with salmon don, I strolled contently out of the lane and into the seething foot traffic of the Mall. And there she was.
Just standing there.
Standing to attention, hands by her sides, feet together. Only moving her head as she scanned the faces of the passing people, left to right, right to left...
She was positioned exactly in the centre of the entrance of a large department store shopping complex, people hurrying in and out on either side of her.
A well-dressed woman of middle life, slim in a camel-coloured summer suit, a small handbag slung low from a long shoulder strap. She wore expensive stiletto shoes and a mane of rather striking salt and pepper hair was held back with a broad headband. Quite a smart and cultured-looking woman. But oh, her eyes. Oh, the burden of sorrows therein. The saddest eyes I have ever seen. Heavy with bags as if they had wept a sea of tears.
And she just stood there, so very still, looking slowly from left to right at the faces on the street.
And I stood still and watched her watching. Wondering if maybe someone would come along to meet her. Surely she was waiting for a friend.
"Haven't you seen her before?" asked my colleague. "She stands there every day, I believe."
My heart lurched with distress. Every day? The woman stands and waits?
I wanted to know everything. I wanted to go up and ask her. I thought maybe I would. But there was some sort of invisible barrier around her. A "don't approach" message in her demeanour. So I held my ground respectfully - and wondered.
Is she waiting for someone who will never come? Every day returning to the spot where once they agreed to meet? Is she abandoned by a loved one? Waiting for the man fate took to other arms? Is she quite mad? Maybe her mother told her if ever she was lost to stand in one place and wait to be found - and now she is very lost in life itself.
I will probably never know.
She is the sadness in the throng.
But she now comes with me wherever I go, a shadow in my mind, a haunting - and a reminder that, for many, life consists only of surviving disappointments.