I was struck this week that the nénis had noted my absence. I was away for a while, back for a few days, and gone again. Walking through the village, I was stopped three times by three old dears wondering where I’d been and how long I was back for this time.
Years ago, when in Budapest, I went to India for three weeks. The only person who’d realised I was gone was the girl behind the counter in the café/bar below my flat. No one else had noticed. At the time, it upset me to think that I hadn’t been missed. But that was years ago. I’m older now. I realise that people have their lives and are busy living them, too busy to notice what’s going on with other people.
Some years later, I got to thinking that if I fell in the flat on a Thursday morning and couldn’t get to my phone, no one would find me until the following Wednesday morning when my cleaner came. I remember having conversations with other ex-pats who lived alone and there was talk of setting up a site where we could simply check in each day, the premise being that if we failed to check in, someone would make a phone call to make sure all was okay.
Years ago, in another life, a colleague’s sister who lived in New York I think, didn’t show up for work on Thursday or on Friday. When she didn’t appear on Monday someone went to check and found her dead in bed. Five days. It made me think.
Now, himself would notice if I went missing. When he’s here. And the cat. Not my cat. I think he belongs to our German neighbours two doors up. Or maybe not. I see him all around the village so he could be a village cat, fed by many. I call him Mosi because he has a striped tail, like a racoon (mosómedve). When I’ve been gone for a while, I find him on the terrace on the first morning I’m back, glaring at me through the window as if to say ‘get your priorities right, mate’. He answers to Mosi now, which I find amusing. I wonder how many names he has.
There’s a closeness in the village, a nearness. Faces have names or descriptions. The lovely lady who dresses really well and always rides a bike. The man with the beard who cycles as he walks his pedigree dog; he’s from the house with the landscaped garden. The eccentric woman with the cats who always looks as if she’d headed to Woodstock. The original Woodstock.
I ran into a neighbour in the village shop who, in passing, commented that they’d finished my pear and walnut bread and my cherry muffins. Just sayin’ like. I baked yesterday and delivered today.
Another suggested that my grape jelly needed more setting. It was jelly, I told her, not jam. Still, it was a little on the runny side for her taste. Lovely, but… Each to their own I thought as she presented me with a basket of peaches, which went into a crumble and four jars of chutney.
I had a phone call during the week from another lovely woman with whom I worked when I first came to Budapest. She’s 80 now and quite the tonic. She wants to come to visit this village, full of small kindnesses where foreigners are welcomed and people are friendly.
Am grateful for these small kindnesses.