This is a cross-post from Marc’s Words
I wrote about the Old Woman earlier and yesterday I ran into her again.
I stopped into the Cafe under my apartment yesterday for an iced coffee at about 9pm and found Veronica there. It wasn’t unusual to find her there as it’s where she tends to spend her days. She was almost in tears over the fact that she had lost the keys to her apartment. She was holding her mobile phone to her ear but she wasn’t speaking and no one was on the other end to speak to her.
I asked why she didn’t just call the landlady and get another key, she looked at me through eyes artificially enlarged by the lenses of her glasses and I saw no comprehension in them. I’m not the most patient man in the world and I asked her once again, to which she said “What will she do?” I responded that she would have a spare key for her.
Again I saw no comprehension in those bulging eyes.
She had a plastic bag with her filled with random bric-a-brac which I went through on the off chance that her keys were inside. There was a pad, a pen, a few biscuits loose, and her purse but no keys.
“I have called my cousin” she said, she was holding a phone number on a piece of paper which she had gotten from the waitress in the cafe, (about 5″9, auburn hair, supermodel thin, blue grey eyes, sweet if awkward smile). I couldn’t make the leap between the waitress writing a phone number down and it belonging to Veronica’s cousin.
We share the same landlady so I called her and arranged to pick up Veronica’s spare keys. It was just a short walk to go and get them and when I arrived back at the cafe I gave them to Veronica. The tears appeared in her eyes making me embarrassed so I said something quickly in English, which, to my surprise, she answered in English.
We entered our apartment building together and made small talk in the lift, she kept thanking me and every time she did she looked like she was going to cry out of worry at the situation she was in. I moved the conversation back towards her English which she said she learned during five years of study at Cambridge gaining a PhD in English Literature. She reminisced about her time there and I joined her in her one room apartment.
The table top was covered with pages of magazines which served as a makeshift tablecloth. She offered me a glass of coke and asked me to grab the glass from a cupboard that was too high up to reach. There were no glasses in the cupboard she had directed me to. I found a mug and we sat while I drank diet coke.
She hadn’t been in the camps during the war but had been hidden with a family in her native France from the age of 6. She told me that she had learnt an entirely new identity, her father also survived the war and they were reunited with the liberation of France. She can’ t remember when she studied in the UK but she does know she was born in 1935.
She starts talking about the operation she had several months ago where she had a kidney removed, she talks about it over and over as if on a loop and it’s hard to get her away from it. She talks about her dad, a man who was an aristocrat in Czarist Russia who bolted to Germany when the revolution happened and then on to Paris.
She spoke of her father lovingly and said that when he died she sank into a “mini depression” at the age of 29. I try to find out more but it’s not easy and somehow it doesn’t feel fair either.
After a while I wish her well and take my leave…she closes the door on her room and I can hear the television from my own apartment as per usual.