Friday, 1 January 2010

The Old Lady …

(first published 3 April 2007 in the FLOG)
When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people
Abraham Joshua Heschel


I had noticed the grey haired old lady at the local Cafetaria for some time now. She seemed to be a regular customer and I hadn't given her much thought other than to observe that she invariably arrived after we did, and that she was always on her own. Sunday was slightly different. She had managed to get in earlier than we did for our Sunday afternoon break, and was sitting at a table that was laid for her, or so it appeared.

Unusually for that time of the day, around 3 p.m., several people wandered in and started to occupy the free places. That was about when I observed a subtle change in customer behaviour. The old lady jumped up with her plate of soup and stepped up to the bar. The bar, as are most in this country, is about chest high to a person of normal height. She is short and slight, which meant that only her upper shoulders and head were above bar level. But she managed to get the plate and bread roll and spoon onto the bar, then turned around to retrieve her plastic bags that she had placed by the seat that she had been recently occupying.

The drama continued to unfold. The owner-brother that was serving customers (the other owner-brother was tending bar) grabbed her plate and roll and spoon from off the bar and placed it all firmly back on the table that she had vacated only a few moments before. He then wrested the plastic bags out of her hand and placed them, equally firmly, by the chair that he was pointing to fiercely indicating that she sit down. All this while castigating her openly and volubly!

I am not well-versed in the Portuguese language, certainly not familiar enough with it to follow the machine-gun rapidity of the exchanges, so I did what I usually do and turned to Maria for an explanation. I noticed she had a whimsical half-smile on her face, not the expression I expected from somebody observing an altercation of such apparent magnitude. The explanation was not what I expected either, but it all made sense.

The old lady, somebody's grandmother, mother, sister, is a lonely old lady who lives on her own in the neighbourhood. She visits the Cafetaria daily, usually after the lunch-hour rush is over and the place has emptied. She is served a bowl of soup and a bread roll which usually has a slice of cheese inserted into it. She eats this gratefully, gathers up her bags, thanks everybody profusely, bids good afternoon to any customers present, and leaves in a dignified manner.

No mention of payment ever arises!

I wondered for how long this had been going on. "Forever!" was the noncommittal reply from her that sits by my side. The owners of the Cafetaria are also local residents and are aware of her circumstances. They do not find it an imposition to serve her a bowl of soup each day, nor do they find their actions unusual in any way. Neither brother would even consider accepting a congratulatory comment, and would probably be offended if their actions were considered a 'charitable' act.

It is just something they do!

What was the commotion about? It appears she felt that she was unnecessarily occupying a perfectly good seat in the establishment that had suddenly, and unexpectedly filled up. To ease the seating problem she decided to move to the bar, finish her little repast, and take her leave as quietly as she had arrived. But Jorge (pronounced George), the younger brother, was having none of it. He insisted loudly, for all the customers to hear, that she was as valued a diner as anybody else, and that she was going to finish her meal at the table at which he had served her. So, there!

Her meal over, I observed her carefully wrap half the bread roll in a diffidently retrieved paper napkin, gather up her belongings and with a nod and a beatific smile to all, take her leave.

Kindness manifests itself in so many ways.

I think I should let Martin Luther King Jr. have the last word. He once said, "Life's most urgent question is, what are you doing for others?"

P.S. I am in the process of closing down several of my websites and thought it was worth rescuing some of the posts from other 'blogs' I've run in the past..

This post is one of them.

My sincere apologies to those who have already read it.


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Thumbelina said...

Please do not apologise. I rarely visit the FLOG now and I am so glad you reposted. I was going to say "very appropriate this time of year", but actually, it is very appropriate any time of year.

I hope the old lady still gets her soup. And the brothers have their reward already.

Fletch said...

In answer to your last paragraph Cath, 'yes', and also (I suspect) 'yes'. The fact that they've survived the downturn, continue to be jovial hosts, and have even managed to give the cafeteria a facelift, means they are doing something right!

The 'theme' is my New Year Soapbox. I shall continue to rant from there from time to time ...

jinksy said...

Definitely worth posting again for those of us who missed the first edition; a wonderful, heartwarming story.

Fletch said...

Thanks, Penny.

There certainly is an awful lot of 'good' around, if only one takes the time to look ...

Sniffles and Smiles said...

I must confess...I stopped by yesterday and read this...but it wasn't a day that I was supposed to be out and about in blogland...I was being sneaky...and couldn't wait to read some of my favorite blogs...and this, my friend, is a fantastic story...what an anecdote...and tribute to people demonstrating true greatness! It is such a simple, yet incredibly powerful tale...I am so glad you told this...I will be thinking and reflecting upon it for days to come...Thanks, Terry!!! No one could have told this better! You are simply "terr-ific!!!" Sorry... Just couldn't resist ;-) Hugs, Janine

Fletch said...

Thanks, Janine.

You say the nicest things ...

Akelamalu said...

I hadn't read it before so thanks for reposting. :)

Martin H. said...

Yes, I am a newcomer too, and really enjoyed the post.

Fletch said...

Ake, thanks for dropping by.

Go and re-pack. The cruise ship won't wait for you.

Have a terrific time ...

Fletch said...

Honoured, Martin.

Shrinky said...

I echo Cath's sentiments over your reposting this, it's a beatifully written and particularly poignant piece, that I've thoroughly enjoyed re-reading. Also, how lovely to receive an update - it's good to know the brothers are not only doing well, but that they are even thriving. Seems they have deservedly chalked up a lot of good Karma along their way, eh?

Fletch said...

Thanks, Carol.

Yes, there must be something in this "good Karma" thing. Looks like I need to brush up on it, and start practising some of my own ...

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Hello, friend!!! Just stopped by to thank you for visiting!! And to tell you that "YES!!"...nothing more PERFECT than "Sleepless in Seattle!" I'm roaring with laughter!!! You are too good!!! Have a fabulous weekend!!! Sending you all the best and warmest thoughts!!! Janine

emma said...

I love that story. So portuguese, and so typical of my experience of portugal as a foreigner... understanding some of it, but losing the subtleties - what's going on here? Why are they getting upset with her? What's happening now? So sweet! paradise discovered indeed, just a little :)

Fletch said...

Thanks Emma.

As a 'foreigner' in this paradise of a country you probably appreciate the subtleties more than most.

When I first posted the story on another blog, one visitor commented that, "... even if half of it is true it is a good story." I was taken aback that anybody would think it was a work of fiction.

Especially since I don't have the imagination to make up a story like this .....



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