Friday Fiction – The Bag Lady

A long while back, I was told of a short story competition.

Hugh had posted about the competition, and I thought, “Why not!”

I can’t even remember what the rules were, or the exact prompt, but I started a story, which never got finished.

Well, at the moment I am engrossed in writing my WIP, but sometimes you have to give yourself a break.

I decided to finish my story… And thought I would share it with you!

 

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Image from Pixabay

 

The Bag Lady

“Come on Penny, let’s just cross the road here. There you go, good girl, we can see the shop window so much clearer from here.” Penny looked up at her mother and glanced back to where they had been standing, outside the huge department store Willards.  It had become something of a family custom that whenever there was a big reveal of the new Christmas shop window display, Penny and her mother, Charlotte, would come and marvel at the inventiveness of the designers.

Just to the side of the window this time, though, there was a small pile of bags, carrier bags, reusable shopping bags, even an old handbag, and they were all stuffed to bursting. Sat among them was a person. An elderly lady.

“But mother, why is that lady sitting there?” It didn’t seem right to Penny to leave an old woman sitting outside, on such a cold day.

“Don’t worry about her, Penny. She’s just a bag lady. Nothing to concern yourself with. Just keep your eyes ahead, and stop staring, otherwise, she might think we’re about to give her something.”  Charlotte held her hand out to her daughter, a gold bracelet  on her wrist glinting in the light as she did so.

Accustomed to listening to whatever her mother said, Penny obediently continued in the direction her mother had indicated, but she couldn’t help taking one last glance back. As she did, the woman caught her eye, winked, and gave her a wave.

Penny started, and turned forward, following her mother as quickly as she could.

~

Milly smiled to herself.

Bag Lady.

She was used to that moniker. And not just because of her present situation.

Oh, many years ago, there were those that called her that, for a very different reason.

~

Fifty years ago, she had been a young, eager to learn shop assistant at Willards. She had started right at the bottom, running around, fulfilling the commands of the head sales ladies. She became an expert at deciphering their strange, short code to describe all manner of items, so a customer was not waiting too long to get what they desired.

She was soon given a chance to step up in the hierarchy and began to wrap the bought items when someone noticed her careful handling of merchandise, and how she folded scarves and clothing with such reverence.

It was during one of her wrapping sessions though, that her true skill was discovered.

Lady Palmerston had been choosing her Spring wardrobe and had accumulated a huge pile of beautiful clothes, which Milly had to wrap. As she did so, Milly found herself mentally matching various accessories to the myriad outfits scattered on her counter.

She looked over at Mrs Walker, the Head Sales Lady, who was deep in conversation with Lady Palmerston.  They were discussing jewellery. That was Mrs Walker’s area of expertise. Milly knew they would be a while so she slipped from her place of work to the Handbag counter, and started rifling through the stock there. Finding the items she required, she went back to her counter, and began to arrange the clothes, and placed the chosen bags by each outfit. “They look pretty good!” she thought, and after a quick glance back, to see if Mrs Walker was still occupied, she nipped over to the shoe counter.

Content with her choices of footwear, she made her way back to her counter, to complete the outfits, before actually doing her job of wrapping the clothing in the delicate tissue paper Willards was famous for.

But she stood stock still as she realised that there were people by the wrapping station. Not any old people, but Mrs Walker and Lady Palmerston. Good grief! There would be trouble now!

One of the requirements of her job was to have the customer’s goods ready to go before they came to her, and she hadn’t even started! This didn’t bode well.

“But I insist, Mrs Walker! I wish to speak with her right away! The one who did,” and Lady Palmerston indicated towards the clothes, “this!”

“Very well, Lady Palmerston, I shall go and locate the girl right away. I am so sorry for causing you any inconvenience…” Mrs Walker was decidedly flustered and turned around to find that blasted young girl. Really! To leave her post with all these clothes left scattered atop her workstation! And handbags strewn all over the client’s purchases!

She caught sight of Milly, just as Milly thought she should do a quick u-turn and disappear to the store room.

“Millicent! Come here this instant!” Mrs Walker’s voice carried across the shop floor and reached Milly’s ears.

“What in the world is going on here, young lady?” Mrs Walker shrieked as Milly approached. Reddening, Milly searched her mind for an appropriate answer. “Well, I…”

“Please Mrs Walker, may I?” interrupted a bemused Lady Palmerston.

“Pardon? Oh, of course, Lady Palmerston. May I just say, I apologise profusely on behalf of Willards…” The Head Sales Lady flustered.

Lady Palmerston turned to look at Milly.

“Dear girl, did you do this?” She swept her arm in the direction of the pile of clothes on the wrapping desk.

“Yes Lady Palmerston, I’m sorry Lady Palmerston” Milly glanced down at her shoes. This was it, she was going to lose her job now. Why couldn’t she have just done what she was meant to?

“Sorry? But I love it!”

Milly looked up, slightly confused, as did Mrs Walker.

“You have matched these bags to my outfits perfectly! And if I’m not mistaken, you were carrying shoes when you came over here. I can only guess they were to complement the handbags. Mrs Walker, this girl has something of a talent!

~

It didn’t take long for the word of Lady Palmerston to spread.

Her acquaintances made a point of coming to the wrapping counter and requesting that Milly accompany them to accessorise them.

Soon, ladies from far and wide were asking for “The Bag Lady” to assist them.

The management at Willards soon realised they were onto a goldmine here. Women were choosing outfits, and with Milly’s careful selections, they were spending double the amount on bags, shoes and scarves.

Would it be a good idea to move her to Jewellery, where the merchandise held all the more value?

~

Many years went by, and Milly passed her knowledge and skills onto some of the younger, eager girls working on the shop front. Teaching them which colours complemented others, which materials suited partnership with others, there was soon a team of ‘Purse Girls’, headed by the original ‘Bag Lady’.

Even with all her successes, she had lived a meagre life. The wages she earned kept a roof over her head. She had never married, or had children, so devoted to her job, was she.

The time came for her to retire.

They gave her a wonderful send off. Old clients of hers, as well as new, came to wish her well. Even Mrs Williams was wheeled out of her own retirement to come and gloat about how she had ‘discovered’ Milly’s talent. She was presented with a very expensive black Chanel handbag, as a token from the store.

She thought of Lady Palmerston that day very fondly. The woman had given her the step she needed to leave wrapping, and make a name for herself.  It was sad to think that she was no longer with them, having passed away around ten years previously, but Lady Palmerston’s daughter had come to the store, on the eve of her funeral, and requested that Milly choose the shoes and bag that her mother would be buried with.

Milly recalled a girl with her on that day, Charlotte. Lady Palmerston’s granddaughter. She had looked keenly at the various glass-topped counters, marvelling at the sparkly items encased within.

A few years, they met again. Charlotte was getting married, and she came with her mother to choose some accessories for her trousseau. Milly found her a beautiful bracelet, with tiny diamonds studding the clasp, something that would set off most outfits on her delicate wrist.

~

As kind as life had been to her whilst in employment, things took a down turn in retirement. With not many savings, and no family to fall back on, Milly fell behind on her rent. Paying bills, and even buying food became a juggling act.

Sadly, she lost her home, and with nowhere to go, her belongings stuffed in the bags around her meagre home, she wandered the streets. She took pleasure in finding a spot near her old workplace around Christmas, to see the windows that always gave her such pleasure.

And today, seeing that little girl had been the icing on the cake. Penny was the spitting image of her great grandmother, Lady Penny Palmerston. She knew it was her. And the fact that her mother still wore the bracelet, after all these years… It didn’t matter if she didn’t recognise her anymore, the fact that Milly’s choices were still appreciated warmed her heart.

She hugged her handbag tightly to herself and smiled.

~

The headline read;

“The Real Bag Lady”.

It detailed the history of the well-known Millicent Cooper, who had started the trend for personal shoppers, fifty years previously. At the time she was paid a basic wage, and the happiness of her customers was more than enough of a bonus for her.

And the sad news that even though her example paved the way for many younger women to charge exorbitant amounts, doing, essentially, the same thing, she died, homeless, curled up outside Willards, the very store she had found fame in.

Clutching her Chanel bag.

 

 

84 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hugh's Views and News
    Aug 29, 2017 @ 16:03:03

    So loved reading this version of The Bag Lady, Ritu. You should certainly enter it into some writing competitions (if you haven’t already done so). I loved the way you tied up the end of the story with the beginning. It may be a sad read, but you’ve cleverly written something very special with the prompt that was given.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. Ritu
    Aug 27, 2017 @ 16:51:25

    😁

    Like

    Reply

  3. My Childhood Bookshelf
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 23:24:30

    Love love love the story. So well written and very touching. One to save. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  4. Unbound Roots
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 19:22:22

    A wonderful, and heartwarming story to me. Even though poor Milly ended up on the streets, you still see the warmth in her heart, and the importance of connection. I wonder if this story could continue at some point, where the girl ends up coming back to visit the ‘bag lady’ a few years down the road – still curious. Maybe an important friendship could form and enrich them both in different ways. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Ritu
      Aug 26, 2017 @ 20:07:13

      It’s an idea, but she ‘dies’ that night, holding her bag… Maybe she could come back, as an adult, the memory in her mind, and find out who the woman was… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  5. potatosandwich
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 16:44:17

    A lovely read. Life’s path is not straight, fraught with obstacles and let downs… But some positives. This peice is a nice reminder. Live for the moment, treasure wonderful memories, we all have some.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  6. Gary
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 16:22:56

    This works Ritu because it is a timely reminder that nobody is very far from this situation if life turns a curveball. I also think current imbalance on wages versus making ends meet is getting tighter for many too and that creates vulnerability later on in life. I also often wonder, looking at those less fortunate, what their personal stories are. I watched A Street Cat Called Bob not so long ago and that’s a touching story on levels I mentioned; although the outcome is kind of in reverse.

    It also shows here the merit of NEVER throwing away any writing, even if its unfinished, you never quite know when it might find life again later on.

    Great stuff again 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  7. Lisa Orchard
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 15:38:05

    Awesome story, Ritu! Keep writing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  8. angelanoelauthor
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 15:37:22

    I truly wonder how often I am remembered by someone I have forgotten. Maybe this person, like Milly, had fallen on hard times and I, caught up in my own little drama, don’t remember how much he or she meant to me at one time. I always want to pay attention, to care, and to recognize the story behind each person as unique. But I sometimes breeze by, like Charlotte and Penny do. A lovely story, though a sad one. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Ritu
      Aug 26, 2017 @ 15:52:12

      Thank you Angela. It takes a special sort of person to be able to remember and acknowledge everyone they knew… But we should always try and think about a person’s story before judging them… I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  9. cookandenjoyrecipes
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 15:26:05

    What an awesome and incredible tribute and story Ritu. Never look down on anyone, give a helping hand and pull them up, do not stomp then down and forget about them. One never know the circumstances of others, and never judge ‘a book by its cover.
    Love this.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  10. Jennifer
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 13:56:41

    What a beautiful tribute to homeless people everywhere. We don’t know where people came from or what caused them to be in the circumstances they are in.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  11. You Can Always Start Now
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 13:12:40

    Thank you. You gave us another example of we have no idea where people are coming from and should not be making assumptions. No one person is better than anyone else. Period.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  12. Phil Taylor
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 11:52:25

    That is truly a wonderful story and wonderfully written. I enjoyed it. Happy Saturday Ritu!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  13. fancypaperblog
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 09:55:09

    Love the story. I can see Maggie Smith in a role here after her Lady in the van performance x

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  14. globalhousesitterX2
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 09:54:44

    How life can change so quickly, is very scary indeed! A tale to remember when making decisions in life!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  15. weejars
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 09:22:46

    ^Milly’s (thanks Autocorrect!)

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  16. weejars
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 09:22:02

    Fabulous word-smithery! Loved Molly’s tale

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  17. anhistorianabouttown
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 08:57:53

    This was wonderful, Ritu- you’ve created such a full story, and Milly is such a complete character! Very, very touching!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  18. OIKOS™-Redaktion
    Aug 26, 2017 @ 08:23:42

    Reply

  19. willowdot21
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 23:20:42

    Brilliant as ever Sis xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  20. dornahainds
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 19:13:12

    Beautiful. Tragic. Life lessons are Never Easy. 🥀🥀🥀

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  21. ~M
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 17:04:06

    Loved this bittersweet tale. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  22. Aimer Boyz
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 16:32:22

    Beautifully done, Ritu. Loved your “Bag Lady’s” back story.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  23. desertcurmudgeon
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 16:29:23

    I loved this, Ritu. Absolutely loved it. I’ve nothing more to add.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  24. Chris White
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 16:18:13

    Well written, Ritu. A sad twist. Bittersweet.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  25. Denzil - Life Sentences
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 16:06:43

    A lovely and perfectly rounded story, Ritu!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  26. Deb
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 11:57:35

    Wow Ritu what an amazing wonderfully written story! I can barely see the words I type thru my tears. You really captured the essence of this story, marvelous!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  27. Bernadette
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 11:23:20

    Oh Ritu, you wove a magnificent tale.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  28. allan hudson
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 10:54:16

    Very nice. I enjoyed that. Would like to have you as a guest on my blog and maybe you could share the story? Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  29. Erika Kind
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 10:39:35

    Oh, sis, I read the story now. This touched me so very deeply throught reading. So sad and tragic…. most of all since there is a true story behind. But you told it so poignant that I am sure the view of a homeless person may have changed for many. Thank your for this important impulse!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  30. Ajay Vyas
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 09:30:25

    Can I just say that your writing has come so very far since I have “known” you.
    You are a great talent, and a great inspiration and motivation for me please keep writing ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  31. barbtaub
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 09:06:08

    What a bittersweet, lovely story! Thank you SO much for sharing it with us!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  32. tamsinsview
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 08:29:50

    Glad you posted this, i really enjoyed reading it x

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  33. The Indecisive Eejit
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 08:08:12

    Awww, poor Millie.
    That’s a great but of writing Ritu, glad you shared.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  34. robbiesinspiration
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 07:28:26

    A lovely story, Ritu.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  35. Erika Kind
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 06:41:36

    Hi, Sis, just wanted to say bye-bye and stop by before I leave. I hope I can read your story later at the airport. See…. there are still many more stories in your cute head 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  36. Miriam Hurdle
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 05:43:04

    I like the story very much! I’m glad you finished it. Yes, being helpful in good spirit, and being patient pay off in the end!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  37. Mr. Militant Negro
    Aug 25, 2017 @ 05:10:39

    Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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