She lives in the opposite building of my apartment . I can see her patio from mine and since the patio is my favorite hang out place, watching her became an inevitable part of my routine.
She does not look a talkative type. Michelle, who lived in the door opposite to her’s ,was the most sociable lady that I have ever seen. When Michelle one day complained that the lady who lived next door was ‘cold and unresponsive’ I guessed that she was probably an introvert.
I did not know her name.One day I was curious enough to stray to her mail box and read her last name that was stuck to it, it spelled Nguyen .I googled and found out that it was a Vietnamese surname. The only piece of personal information that I knew about her was this .
She lived alone, did not not even have a pet. She left to work before I woke up and returned around 3, usually when I waited outside for Daisy’s school bus.She usually had Thursdays off , because on Thursdays she left her blinds open and I could see her walk around the house.May be she was a nurse, because she wore some kind of uniform to work that closely resembled the cousin Kelly’s and Kelly is a staff nurse at St Mary’s Hospital.
Since we saw each other at least 2-3 times a day, we kinda were on smiling terms. I would give her one of my brightest smile and she would return it most of the times. On some days she would be very preoccupied and then I would be denied the courtesy of her smile. This , however, did not offend me because I some how felt that I knew her beyond these formal smiling games , which in itself was ironic as I had not spoken anything to her other than “How are you doing today” or “What a bright day” or something unimportant like those, her answer always being a slight node with a wide smile.
I somehow became obsessed with this lady and often wondered what her story was.She did not have many visitors, except for a younger couple who visited her once every month. They came on Sunday mornings, I usually saw their car parked near to hers when we left for the morning mass , every third Sunday.They usually left by afternoon I guess, because I have more than once saw them leaving around 2 pm. I sometimes felt sorry for the woman, how terribly lonely would she be !! But I couldn’t help empathizing with her, because I myself felt terribly lonely,away from my family, even amidst all my so called friends, a hollowness that had accumulated over years’ of pretense.I always felt a strong urge to go talk to her, to ask her the reason for that strange melancholy in her eyes, to smooth the worry lines between her eyebrows. I don’t know what had urged her to leave her family and friends and live in this unknown land.In the back of my mind, I strongly suspected that she has no friends or family at all.
On Some days, I see her with a book, sitting on her rocking chair, on her patio.She never reads the book , but keeps it open in her hand and watches things around her. She sometimes spots me and gives me a smile, just a plain smile, no waves or no hellos.
I also see her tend to the rows of roses that she grows in the pots. I love to watch her then.She strongly reminds me of Grace, my old Nanny, who used to love gardening.I feel sad that she would never understand the strong empathy or whatever feeling that I have for her. To her I will always be a prying stranger, or so I thought.
I was feeling very worried that day. Will was at the hospital and he needed a surgery.There was nothing to worry,the doctor had said. Since our family lived thousands of miles away ,I told them I would manage on my own. I had come back from the hospital, as they did not allow any bystanders. I was terribly terribly worried. I stood on the patio, my comfort spot and was fighting my tears back.I did not want Daisy to see me crying.I wanted my mother , but did not call her because I knew that she would want to rush here and she was not supposed to travel after her knee surgery.
I knew Will would be fine, but I wanted somebody to reassure me, somebody to tell me it was all going to be fine. I couldn’t think of any friends or neighbors to call, because there was no one with whom I shared such a bond.
She was watering her plants. She saw me and gave me her usual smile. I smiled back and soon got in the house, lest she saw me cry. After about two minutes, I heard a knock on the door and went to open it wondering who could it be. I was very surprised to see her standing outside.”Hi…..” I was confused and that might have shown on my face
“Hello, I thought you did not look well.Do you mind if I ask if there is anything I could do?” She asked me hesitantly in a thick accent.
I looked at her, trying to get a grasp of what just happened. And before I knew I was crying on her shoulders and she was whispering words of comfort to me. That night the wall of reluctance was taken down between two strangers who needed each other!!