The witch that lived near where I grew up had long grey hair and wore rags. She lived in a car two streets from mine, its windows obstructed with plastic bags, a spray painted dog on one of the doors. A friend of mine lived nearby, and when we had sleepovers we told each other terrifying stories of how she snatched little children off the street and how her car was littered with their bones.
We saw her most days, shuffling her plastic bag wrapped feet, her long grey hair pulled up into a bun on top of her head, her face reddened from the cold, and we always crossed to the other side of the road, shooting her weary glances. Most of the time we were on foot, but on one fateful day, my friend and I were on our bikes.
As soon as the witch caught sight of us, she screamed and waved her bag. The bag caught my shoulder and destabilised me: I crashed my bike into a nearby tree. I wasn’t hurt, just shaken as I scrambled to pick up my bike and pedal off. It was all I could do not to cry.
We had to do something, said my friend. We had to take matters into our own hands, we couldn’t let a witch attack us like that. So we armed ourself with a ouija board which was just a sheet of paper with the letters of the alphabet in marker, and an upturned glass. We said a prayer for the spirits to connect with them, and then we asked that they defeat the witch. The spirits replied, as they always did. I never pushed the glass by the way, I was far too gullible and actually believed in the power of the ouija board. Clearly, my friend did the pushing. Anyway, the spirits answered: the witch would be taken care of.
Months passed and winter fell. The witch wrapped her hair in a scarf against the cold. She seemed less fearsome that way, just old, and a bit sad. We were still weary when we saw her in the street, but we no longer made up stories about the children she ate in her car. In fact, we started to forget about her.
And then her car disappeared. There was no fuss, no great thunderstorm to mark the removal of the witch’s lair. Just that it was there one day, and then the next wasn’t. The spirits had done as we had asked them.
The next time I saw the witch, I felt horridly guilty that we’d taken her home from her. She just looked like an old woman now, and she pulled a trolley of plastic bags behind her. I knew there were no bones under the bags, probably just more plastic bags — plastic bags that no longer had anywhere to live.
I heard of the witch again recently. There was a very sad article in the Guardian (a UK newspaper) about her passing. She had in fact been a gifted concert pianist, and a piano teacher. In the 70s she fell on hard times and was asked to leave her lodgings. Believing she had been wronged, she slept in her car, demanding to return to her rooms.
She never did.
Her car was removed because it was a bit of an eye sore and local residents felt that it devalued property prices on that street. Attempts were made to move her into affordable housing instead but she refused, choosing to remain on the streets. She was apparently very clean, washing at the local doctor’s surgery every day, and resourceful too: she used pigeon feathers to insulate her makeshift shoes in the winter.
She was killed by a lorry at 77, having spent most of her life on the streets. By all accounts she was a rather extraordinary woman, but one who sadly was a bit different, and who as a result slipped through the cracks.
For anyone interested, the whole article is here