Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Old Couple

from an imaginary Lucerne diary
The weather turned cold today, the sort of cold with a bite in the air that you can feel on your skin the moment you step out of the hotel. I went out for a walk in the morning, encouraged by the bright blue sky. The small street cleaning machines were whirring through the gutters like blind mechanical insects. Above the square, pigeons fluttered towards the ledges of the upper storeys, were repelled by the coils of copper wire placed there to deter them, and fluttered away again over the trees that guarded the centre of the square. I picked up a newspaper from the kiosk on the corner, and a coffee from the bistro nearby, then headed down for the hundredth time towards the river.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who, when they spend some time in a different city, carves out their own set of places they go to regularly: the same cafĂ© in the morning, the same restaurant in the evening, the same route they like to take. I was approaching my favourite place to read the newspaper—a wooden bench on the St. Karli Quai, with a name plate on the back dedicated to an old Jewish couple who died in World War II—but I saw, with a slightly petulant feeling, that it was already occupied. A very old man and his very old wife were huddled shoulder to shoulder on the bench. I assumed they were married, I don’t know why. Maybe because they wore the same dark brown overcoats, fluffy Russian hats, and expensive Italian shoes. When I came round towards the railing and glanced at them from the side, I could see that they were holding hands, pointing things out that they saw on the water, leaning in to tell each other things, and looking at each other and smiling in response. My annoyance at their taking my favourite bench gave way to a feeling of wonder at how sweet they appeared. To be so old, and possibly married for so long, and yet to still take pleasure in each other’s company. I envied them, and realized that they were making me feel rather lonely.
I opened my newspaper and pretended to read it for a while, waiting to see whether they would move on. But they stayed, occasionally falling silent, but still holding hands, the man squeezing the woman’s fingers, she reaching over and patting his upper arm. Finally, after maybe ten minutes, there was a quick gust of frozen air from out over the lake, and it began to snow. They stood up, clutching their fluffy Russian hats to their heads, and walked off towards the north. I walked the other way, back towards the bridge, wondering if I would be lucky enough to reach my seventies with the companionship of someone who loved me.

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