Shuffling along, carefully looking at the pavement in front of her, where her old legs are carrying her, Maria moves past the house where I live. One might say she has come to a sudden standstill, but she is going too slow for that. She tries to straighten her aching back but even that is no longer possible. On one arm is her empty bag in which she will store her groceries, her other arm moves slowly sideways and she places her hand above her right side. She sighs. She has just travelled about 50 metres from her home and she already feels the fatigue kick in. In about twenty minutes she will probably arrive at the supermarket just around the corner.
“Hello Maria.” I had come walking up behind her and had not spoken too loudly so as not to startle her.
She looks at me and her mouth forms a tired smile.
“Say Maria,” with the emphasis on the first ‘a’.
“And don’t I get a kiss?” she asks me as she offers her one cheek.
I give her that kiss and again she sighs.
I ask her how she is doing while I already know what the answer will be.
“It’s hard, isn’t it, my boy, but it’s all right,” she replies resignedly.
“You know Maria, I think I should emphasise the ‘i’. It reminds me of that one Maria in West Side Story…”
She has to laugh about it and I am glad that she relaxes a bit.
“My boy, I really don’t know that woman. I’m far too old and everything hurts.
“But still, I emphasise the ‘i’. You may be old, but I see youth in your eyes when you smile. I admire your courage and perseverance when, like today, you come out and walk to the shop by yourself despite the pain you feel. I love to run into you and have a chat with you and give you a kiss. You are a strong woman, like all women. You are also a mother and, like my late mother, a Maria who fought her way through life to make her children into “great” people, completely disregarding her own needs and not allowing herself any pleasure. I like you as a human being…”.
I see the suspicion of tears well up in her eyes.
“Yes my boy” she mumbles and carefully shuffles off towards the supermarket.