We meet at my place, I cook dinner. Then we eat. We talk, and afterwards we sit and watch a comedy on my laptop.
It’s been years since I had a T.V. and the thought of one of those large plasma jobs hanging on the wall puts me off.
When that’s done, we sit and talk, smoke cigarettes, drink tea — we both quit alcohol years ago.
When you age. Things change. The body complains about substance abuse. Not drugs, but bad food and alcohol. Cooking that drips oil is substance abuse. Too much of that and you’re going to be awake all night with a churning stomach.
Too much coffee and you’ll be farting till six in the evening.
I hadn’t realised that I’d become old — or that I looked old — until my neighbours started to talk to me in a different tone.
These days, they stop and ask questions about my health. They want to know if I’m okay alone in my flat, and show concern because they haven’t seen me for a while. I think the implication is that I might have collapsed and be lying on my apartment floor hoping somebody will turn up. Well that’s kind of them to think such things. I’m not at that stage of life. Not that old.
They can’t figure out if I am in fact “old”, or just “getting on”. My hair is grey, and I have lines in all directions across my face. When I smile it reveals a busted tooth and my eyes disappear behind squinted lids. I have one of those old-people-faces. The muscles sag with life’s tiredness, so it looks as though I don’t enjoy myself anymore. In fact, I do.
My feet ache with tiredness all the time.
I have problems figuring out a young person’s age. So it’s mutual. Sometimes I think a person is about twenty-two years old, then I discover they are a solid 33 years.
It’s baffling to lose the ability to estimate age. I can visit my neighbour and tell approximately how old the painting on the wall is, one hundred and twenty years, maybe one hundred and thirty, definitely Expressionism.
Pigments give a lot away; the industrial age created a proliferation of new and brighter oil colours that could be kept in a tube.
The new pigments dry well, but stays smooth and taut. The older ones pick up years of crud, and dust. They need a regular scrub up to stay vibrant.
My neighbour is impressed. I have no idea how old he is, though.
People age differently. Some men are bald at thirty, others get to keep their hair throughout life. The tones in their faces are varied, the lines and creases of a younger person are deceptive. “Are they wrinkles, or is she smiling?”
When we sit and watch the comedy show on my laptop, I glance across at my partner. She is smiling, the light from the screen makes her eyes glow, and I find joy in seeing her happy. She has happy lines that come from many years of laughing and smiling — she can grin too, a “schelmish” grin, a German word; a cheeky grin that hides playful intent.
I see that she is becoming older, like me. I don’t mind. In fact, it’s fun as long as our health holds out. She is one year younger than me. That I know.
I sometimes forget the number of my years by two or three — I have to correct my memory and remember that a lot of time has passed. The other day, I remembered that I became a butcher’s boy fifty years ago. Before that, I worked part time as a milk boy delivering the early morning milk and bread to the houses.
I often tell her that whatever is going on in the world today doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m definitely too old to find a new path, or rock the world with my brilliant new invention. Maybe an improved back scratcher, or a new improved cat toy. But let the world keep turning, and allow me to age with dignity.
After we talk, I check the bus times. The next one will turn up at two-minutes to midnight.
“We better put our shoes and coats on, it’s cool out”.
At the bus stop we talk about cats, the weekend and our next meeting; dinner at hers — she tempts me with a strawberry cake that she’s made.
I’ll be there on Saturday at 4 pm.
I keep my eyes peeled for the bus reflected in a shop window opposite. The bus is rounding the corner, so I wrap my arms around her and we kiss. We hold each other close for a moment, other passengers gather, the bus pulls up — another quick kiss good night and she steps into the bus and sits at a window seat.
As the bus pulls away, her smile and waving at me attracts attention from other passengers. I see them look at me. I wave back, smile, my heart beats, her face glows in the interior light, I’m glad I know her and I love her.
The bus is gone. I walk back along the Bergmannstrasse. The café tables are filled with glasses and mobile phones, couples and groups sit talking. I don’t care how old they, but I hope they all love somebody, and are loved.
It’s midnight, I think about time passing, and how one day we will be gone. And I hope that all the love we have between us will continue to linger along the street. Like a ghost of the past that whispers to passers by.