Late Summer, Early Autumn and Mid-Winter

Late Summer, Early Autumn and Mid-Winter

Before today, I had met her twice at the organic supermarket and once on the street: summer, autumn, and winter.

The first time, in the blistering heat, she joined me as a tram thundered past. She gestured towards the seat opposite. I paused mid-chew and directed my spoon towards it.

She sipped her coffee and opened the conversation in German. I stumbled over my reply and she picked it up in English.

"Are you eating that because it's good for you or because you think it's good for you?" She waved her hand over my lunch of berries, nuts, and yoghurt.

"My body tells me it's good, and I listen," I said. She nodded.

She asked me why I was in Leipzig. I told her some of the story. "And you?" I said. "I've always lived here," she said. "Why? I don't know. Maybe I like it here or maybe I'm just scared of moving."

"If you could live anywhere else," I said, "where would it be?" Her face hardened, then softened into a smile. She took a breath and said, "I've always dreamt of having my own place in Spain. Close to the sea. To smell the salt in the air, feel it dry on my face. Hear the waves break. The sunshine. My body, floating in the sea."

The second time, I was wearing my reading glasses and didn't notice it was her who'd sat across from me. She shouted over the traffic, "What are you hiding?" I peered over the frames and said, "Eh?" She said, "Arms folded. Defensive posture. Very protective. What are you hiding?" I paused. Suddenly felt defensive. "Nothing," I said. "Hugging myself. Don't you hug yourself?" She lowered her voice and said, "I do. And much more besides." We talked about the nearby lake. She was taking the afternoon off her studies to swim there. I wish I'd taken her up on the suggestion. Cancelled my online meetings and joined her.

I saw her on the corner one Sunday evening. Wrapped up against the cold, leaves whipping across the cobblestones, she turned back and smiled at me as she rushed away from the shop doorway, arms hugging a bag of groceries. I raised my beer bottle and smiled back as the wind carried her into the shadows between the sodium glow.

Today, she was in front of me at the checkout as I waited to pay for my coffee. Her hair was down, shoulder length brown curls splilling over the thick collar of her black parka. She turned to face me when she heard my voice.

"It's you," I said.
"Yes, it's me."
"How are you?"
"So so."
"So so? Join me."
"No. I have no time."

By now, I'd become accustomed to this abruptness, but it still prickled. I picked up my cup and saucer, walked carefully to the table, set it down, and took my seat facing the window. I felt her firm hand on my left shoulder. Turned around. "I'm sorry," she said, "That was very harsh. What I said there. I'm sorry." I smiled and said, "That's OK. No need to apologise. It's fine." Her brown eyes brimmed with tears, almost overflowing. "My mother just died and now my sister is in hospital," she said. I said, "I am so sorry. I'm sorry for your loss." Backing away now, she held my gaze. From ten feet away, she said, "Have a lovely Christmas," her voice breaking into a sob, before she rushed through the door and out onto the street.

Jim Burns

Jim Burns