Sunday, October 19, 2008

An unlikely friend

Today felt like a special day: I arrived in Buenos Aires exactly two months ago, on August 19, and I leave in exactly two more, on December 19. This made me yet again introspective. It's also Argentina's mother's day, and the country "sprang ahead" last night while I was at a karaoke birthday party (soon I will be six hours in front of Seattle instead of four). As a means of reflecting on the various meanings of today, I went to Plaza de Congreso to enjoy the extended daylight and write a particularly personal (if not rare - the last date in the book was from August) journal entry about the benefits of sharing one's life and whether or not I was biding or enjoying my time in South America.

As I walked home, I saw an older woman, short and round with a flowing dress and straight, cropped white hair, leaning on a building for support as she advanced unsteadily. My first instinct was to offer assistance, and as I smiled she called to me: "Young lady, will you help me to the cinema?" It being a mere 20 steps away I of course offered my arm and took slow, sure steps next to her until we made it through the glass doors. The single elevator would not come to the ground floor until the last movie ended, so we stood chatting downstairs while she and three others, also waiting, knowingly cursed the Argentinian beaurocracy for not providing more than one elevator - apparently it is a government-sponsored theater. In a few short moments I learned that she was a psychologist, age 90, with a sharp mind and shaky legs. "Take care of your knees," she wisely advised me. Apart from that, she could have been twenty years younger - keen eyes, smooth skin, no stammer or slowness in her speech, seemingly perfect hearing. "Often, the body and mind deteriorate at the same time," she told me, making an exaggerated bend and imitating the use of a cane, unknowingly mimicking my own departed grandmother who suffered from osteoperosis, "but it's only my body that's old."

She offered me her phone number "so we could chat again" and instead of taking it thinking I would never call, I took it thinking, what day might we have lunch? The elevator finally came and I took the stairs to meet her on the next level. She seemed intent on getting to a particular row, so I patiently walked next to her, holding her bags as she guided herself using the handrail. During this interval she told me I must have a handsome boyfriend - it was a statement, not a question - because it was obvious to her I had certain qualities you don't find every day. It was both painful and welcome to hear such words from this magical woman. Once arrived she slowly settled in to her seat, and as I promised to call her in a few days, she smiled and said, "What fun to have a young North American friend!" I kissed her on the cheek and wished her a happy mother's day. Oddly, she wished me the same.

On the way home, charmed by what had just happened, I stopped to pick out some flowers. Everyone I passed was carrying a bouquet as well, though I suspect I was the only one who bought them for myself. As I stood in my kitchen arranging snap dragons and ferns into a glass pitcher as twilight settled in outside my windows, I couldn't help but think that the experience had been rather etheral, coming on a day - and indeed, at the exact moment - when I needed a certain reassurance that all life is not random and that loneliness can be combatted in many ways. It didn't escape me that of all the names in the world, hers was Angelica.


Sara said...

That's one of the most adorable stories I've heard in a long time. Save that number!

Momma Archer said...

Loved the story. Good for you for wanting to help Angelica and for being so patient. I hope I have all my marbles when I'm 90--just a couple more years:)

carrola29 said...

very sweet. did you have lunch with her?