Mar 28, 2006

My neighborhood howl lady

There's this lady, a suffering urban soul, who walks the streets of downtown Athens and howls at passing motor vehicles. Yes, you read correctly. She howls at cars and motorbikes.

Her outward appearance doesn't give warning that she's "not all there". She's always decently dressed and properly groomed. I am almost certain she's harmless; the most aggressive actions I've witnessed her using are howls combined with an occasional well-aimed mooja. Her howling isn't random nor is it targeted at other passers-by. No. This weirdness is set in motion as soon as she comes near any means of two or four-wheeled transport.

The first time I "met" her was many years ago when I was waiting for a pedestrian light to change. As soon as the WALK sign lit up, I stepped off the curb and at the same time a car, which I had taken for granted would stop, screeched to a halt, missing me by a few centimeters. Simultaneously a human voice in the form of ululation came up from behind me. It was a very strange moment; not knowing if I should cross the street, start arguing with the irresponsible driver or run away from the eerie wailing. Everything seemed to stand still for a moment.

She walked by, between the stopped automobile and me, emitting long loud cries. She wasn't looking at anyone in particular; but there was a determined look in her eyes to carry out her message of almighty howl. She neither stopped, nor touched anyone and her cries faded out as she approached the opposite sidewalk, engulfed by the herd of walking people.

I've come across her many times since then and in fact, when my work moved to a new office building I found out that she lives nearby. So, I've had many an opportunity to watch how people look frantically around to see where the howling comes from and escape its source. I've seen drivers yell "You're NUTS lady!" from inside their windshields. She pays them no heed, as if she's incapable of understanding their language. I have never heard her use words, just the howling.

One day, "howl lady" was busy outside giving speeding cars a piece of her fragile mind, while I was in the local bakery (near work) buying a spinach pie for lunch.
The baker, noticed me looking at her from inside the shop window, shook his head, "Poor thing. Off her rocker after the accident".

-"What accident"?

-"She lost both her sons in a car accident 20-some years ago."

I turned and looked at her with renewed sympathy. "So that explains it", I thought aloud.

- "Yup. Real sad story."
Then the baker chuckled, "Seems like she's trying to get even for her loss by scaring the drivers out of their wits."

I don't know if this is, in fact, the true story of howl lady. Her bizarre behaviour might be the result of intense mournfulness. Her howls, oddly, seem to make more sense.