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My Old Lady

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Some of you may already know that I live with an old lady. (Before I go on, let me just emphasize that it is quite the natural thing, in Paris, to end up renting a room in an apartment belonging to an old lady, especially when you’re a student looking for a few months’ housing, and old ladies in Paris tend to live alone in huge, luscious apartments.) Not all of you, however, grasp the full extent to which this tall, lean, soon-to-be centenarian is to me an incessant source of amusement, inspiration and awe. So much so, in fact, that I could not help but dedicate an entire note entirely to her.

Actually, I bumped into her only minutes ago while on my way to the bathroom (it is late evening as I write). She told me off for not making enough noise and giving her a fright (in jest, of course), in reply to which I told her off for not wearing anything on her bare feet (teasingly, needless to say). “Ça fait rien” she retorted and, turning around, hobbled down the hallway into her bedroom, her white, cotton, knee-length nightgown scattered with clover leaves disappearing into the darkness.

She is quite an active old creature, I have to say. Other than being taken out regularly by her children (her daughter is member of a dramatic jury of some experimental theatre and often takes the old lady to see the shows – which is, I sense, viewed with a touch of boredom by the old lady, but she is a responsible parent who knows the importance of encouraging one’s brood), she has gymnastics classes every Thursday, on which occasion she dons her über-elegant outfit consisting of black leggings and a bright red cashmere sweater. She is always cold, that is true. She sleeps with a pile of hot-water bottles, of which one, a few weeks ago, happened to be dented, and thus the old lady found herself waking up in the middle of an inundated bed. (Luckily, the mattress had been speedily replaced that very day with the help of a squadron of family members who arrived within minutes in their miniature cars.)

My old lady’s only default, I suppose, is that she can’t see much. The other day, as she was on her way to a date with her best friend, Solange, with whom they meet regularly on warm and sunny days on a bench on my old lady’s side in the Breteuil park area, she wanted to get a drink before she left. Having approached the sink, where I was meticulously scrubbing my plate and cutlery, with a half-emptied glass of water, asked for cold, held out her glass just out of reach of the stream and, after a couple of seconds – the glass not any fuller than it had been – prepared to bring it to her lips to drink what was not there. Luckily, my reflexes were fast enough to grab the glass out of her hand, look inside at the wasp that was performing an intricate aqua-dance in it, chuck its contents, fill it with some fresh water, and hand it to the old lady, who thirstily swigged it and shuffled off to her rendez-vous, with many remerciements for my kind help. Another proof of her bad sight is the set of magnifying glasses lying on the chaise longue in the salon, where she likes to look at picture books, though I usually end up finding her on the chaise longue, picture book and magnifying glasses in her lap, snoozing away to a heated political debate on her portable radio, volume on the maximum.

I could go on to fill pages describing her endearing particularities: her funky nightgowns hanging in the bathroom (two sets: for cold and warm weather), her quite evidently sweet tooth (boxes of expensive chocolates are found in the most random parts of the apartment, and stacks of gateau au caramel fill the refrigerator shelves), her collection of feminine literature (all in the library in my room), her little notes that lie all about the kitchen (with phone numbers, shopping lists and the dates of her next meeting with Solange) and much, much more. I guess, though, that what I love most about her is the way her eyes light up like the blue gas flames on her age-old stove every time I bring her flowers. And the crazier the combination, the more excited she gets, rushing off to get her fanciest vase – a hideous, bottle-green tinted glass thing that looks rather like a unique piece of art from the seventies – exclaiming how gai and thanking me without end. And I always tell her what I feel at that moment: that the pleasure is mine.


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