“Rrruth…Ruuuth…Ruthhh…Are you ok?”
Her voice echoed, in ripples, wave after wave. Outside an open window, fronds of the palm tree danced.
“Are you Ok? Here, Ruth. Drink that.”
A pair of green birds chased each other flew past the Chinaberry tree. Laughing or fighting, their feathers were a lighter green against its dark leaves. I despised that tree. The cocksure way it seeded its poisonous self everywhere with impunity. It even flowered in a cruel way. A beautiful bunch of blooms, their purple eyes narrow with suspicion. Not a tree for a farm. And though Avram only approved of trees that bore edible fruit. Somehow this Chinaberry avoided detection, the sapling was tolerated, and survived.
“Ruth, you should have eaten something. Here, have a date.”
Those enormous eyes were looking at me, as I tasted something sweet in my mouth. I felt peaceful, but puzzled. What were these tunnels? So dark. Deep. And the heavy blob of woman lying on the tile floor. Tiles that were grey and speckled with black dots now vibrating in and out of focus. A river of sweetness ran through me. Everything became clearer. More mundane. That blob on the floor was me.
“What happened?” Tina smiled. Tender. Discreet. “You should have had something to eat”
“Yes, I wasn’t paying attention. But, what are you doing here? How did you know?”
“Rosie called. She was worried when you didn’t answer.” Tina paused to pick up the fallen chair. “Can you get up? Slowly I started to… Didn’t really want to move. But I would have to get up sometime. Tina didn’t offer her hand in help, and I didn’t blame her. Too much of a challenge for her small size. This is not an age to take chances. She stood up, looking at me like an insurance assessor evaluates damage. I managed to sit up, on the floor.
“No broken bones. Pain anywhere?
I shook my head. We heard a car drive through the gate that should’ve been there. When it came to a stop, the door slammed shut.
“Are you expecting someone?” Tina went over to the window.
“Who is it?”
“Ooh, it could be Osher. For weeks now, I’ve been asking him to come and help me. Tina still peered out the window.
“Yes, it’s Osher. What is he going to do?”
“Ruth!” he shouted from below, “It’s Me. Osher!”
Then his footsteps were climbing the stairs and the door opened. Osher didn’t conceal his surprise.
“She fell.” echoed Tina.
Osher crossed the room to help me up. Amazing, how strong young men are.
“So… Why did you fall?”
Tina’s face twisted in to a frown as she bent to pick up my errand slippers.
“I just forgot to eat. So my blood sugar dipped. But I’m fine now. Want some
coffee before you start?”
“No time. I must get on with it. I can only spare a couple of hours.”
“Gosh, you’re always so busy! Nobody has time anymore. How did we ever manage in the old days?”
Osher was already bounding down the stairs.
Tina asked, “Shall I make some coffee?
“I better eat something more. Where is my syringe? I need an injection.
“Good idea. Tina was already on the case. Osher is lovely, isn’t he?”
“Yes. Good person. The only one who’d come and help.”
“Why do you bother? No one else does”
Tina was referring to the other widows who lived on our street. There must be at least seven of them. It was rare to see them out. Instead, they each shuttered themselves from the heat, in cool dark houses. Watching TV I guess. All day long. Just like me. But I couldn’t let all these trees go to rack and ruin. Avram loved this place, and he would turn over in his grave if one tree died. In truth, I love the trees too. Poor Avram. You know…I think he gave up and died because he couldn’t live with not working anymore. But fair due to Osher for always coming to help Avram. Tina busied herself as if she were burying a secret.
“Have you seen Yvonne lately?”
Yvonne Cohen was my next door neighbour and perhaps the first one to be widowed on our street. Not surprising. She was just a kid when she married a man already past his prime!
“No one ever sees her. You know that,” answered Tina, putting a couple of glasses full of hot coffee on the table.
“I don’t know what she does indoors all day long. Does she ever go out?”
“I see Vera sometimes, when she goes to the shop.”
Vera was the woman most recently widowed. She lived in the 5th house on the street. That is how it worked: the houses were in rows either side of the road, and the farm fields were behind each house.
Some of the widows let their fields, to be farmed by some of younger men, who already had their own fields and were looking for more land. Doodi used my land and paid me peanuts. But that’s all he could afford in order to still make a profit. And a monkey can’t afford to sneeze at peanuts. Otherwise, all I’ve got is my miserly pension.
“You’re so lucky to have your husband, Tina,” Nodding Tina sipped her coffee. She appeared pale and preoccupied. “You can’t imagine how lonely it is. When Avram died, it was like someone just switched off the light. I’ve no one to talk to. Nobody to cook for. I watch politicians argue on tv, and when I turn around to say something to Avram, he isn’t there!
I wonder what Osher is doing?”
I walked over to the window. He was pruning the lemon trees and watering them at the same time. “Osher! Don’t forget to do the pomegranates.” He looked up smiling.
“If I have time…”
“Time! Time! That’s all everyone talks about. No one has time except me!”
“You said you were going to eat something, reminded Tina.
“I’ll just grab a banana. I can’t be bothered to cook just for myself.”
“I have some chicken stew and rice at home. I’ll bring you some later.” Tina decided.
“No Tina, I’m alright. Tomorrow is Friday and Rosie is coming. She’ll help me to cook for Saturday and I’ll have loads for next week too.”
Tina’s eyes seemed far away. She was somewhere deep inside herself. I felt that she saw me through a veil. The breeze wafting through the window was warm and the birds sounded so cheerful. Well, at least they sounded as if they hadn’t a care in the world.
“My daughters want me to sell the farm and move closer to them.”
“That’s an idea.” said Tina
“I don’t want to. It’s home here. How can I leave the place where we lived and worked for sixty years. All the trees. The shrubs. These green birds…they’ve been here for years. Even the traffic noise from the highway. This is what I’m used to.”
“Home is where your family is. What’s the point of being here all alone. Cut your losses, forget all that you have planted. Life is short, but you still have time to enjoy yourself.”
Tina spoke sensibly but also from a distance.
“Thank God you are here. I said. What would I have done without you?”
Tina stood up and went to look out. The afternoon was slowly becoming evening.
“How about going for a walk tomorrow?”
“I can’t say Ruth. I have to go to the hospital.”
“What is it?”
“Oh, just some tests.”
“Is everything ok?” I was beginning to feel strange. Tina trembled a little, and I felt my heart dropping down to my ankles.
“Ruth, I’m dying.”
“What do you mean? We’re all on the way there…”
“No. This is different. I’ve got the big C. I don’t have long.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was numb. Not Tina. The only friend I have. I know, it’s selfish but right away I thought, what about me?
“I’m sure the doctors will find a solution. They have new stuff coming out all the time. Don’t say that you are dying. Don’t say that.”
Osher was running back up the stairs again, and in a flash he stood at the open door, with a smile. “I’m going now, but I did manage to do the pomegranates. I’ll try and come another day. There is just so much that needs to be done.” Turning to go he asked “Why the long face? Not happy?”
“Yes, Osher, of course I’m happy.”
“Well, you don’t look it,” he grumbled.
“Some people are never satisfied. I’m going too,” announced Tina, “Or Albert will think that I ran away with the plumber.” Osher shrugged his shoulders and I felt better. At least she hadn’t lose her sense of humor.
“Come back tomorrow!” I shouted after her. Startled, she spun around to remind me Friday was Rosie’s day, which allowed me one last whisper, “To tell me what the doctor says.”
“I will. Don’t worry.” And with that, Tina was gone.