I knew a lady, old and proud, who struggled by on limited means although from her dress and demeanour that was not immediately obvious: she never complained. Her principle defence was privacy and she guarded that closely. What her life had been and what it held was never disclosed: she made few comments about her circumstances and everything about her said “Don’t touch”. When I first visited her for professional reasons, tea was offered in delicate china cups but there were no biscuits. If you met her in the street she would tip her head slightly but avoid all conversation.
How she had arrived in these circumstances I cannot say. Had there been love or tragedy? I do not know because she never discussed her life in any way: like an iceberg, only the tip was showing but she was not innately cold: only discrete.
Over time, by avoiding personal questions, I gained a slight entrance to her world. She went to church, she told me, though she did not discuss her faith, and autumn was her favourite season because she loved the colour of the leaves : at last biscuit appeared beside the tea; a daughter was mentioned but not in any detail. Her gaze became more quizzical but she never asked a question except about business. Her flat was tidy and uncluttered as you might expect, free of photographs or pictures in the main.
One day I had some music playing in my car. I loved the tune and hummed it as I drove, felt it free me from the everyday, grant me that brief suspension we call peace. All too soon I had to stop and park, but lost in thought I hummed it as I walked towards her house. Her door was opened quickly as I knocked, catching me still humming the refrain. A look of interest passed across her face and, as she stepped aside to let me in the house, she said “You like music?”
“Very much,” I replied, “It’s one of my abiding passions”. She nodded and smiled gently: tea was made and biscuits soon appeared. She looked at me as if we might be friends and I felt an honoured by this display of warmth. As I rose to go she said. “I’ve got something you might find interesting”. I was surprised, of course, but just said. “Oh, that’s nice” and then she left the room.
Returning she held a picture in her hand and offered it to me without comment. Looking down I saw an old black and white photograph of a women dancing on a stage, one arm raised and held above her face: she looked quite beautiful; slim and full of grace. I raised my eyes to hers as she told me, “I was a ballet dancer in my youth.” With that she took the picture from my hand, opened the door and stepped back to let me pass. “Thankyou” I said, “ Thank you” I said and left