As we left Mother Mary today – at the
old aged home Retirement Village – he used to call them old aged homes and be very anti but now suddenly they’re OK and they’re retirement villages cos he has just made an offer on a cottage there, deciding at age 96 that it might be time before too long that he may, perhaps, have to move in there one day. Anyway, as we’re leaving we’re energetically flagged down by an old blue-rinse biddy sitting in a smart white sedan outside the frail care section.
‘Oy! Are you ignoring me?’ she shouts, waving her hand in Dad’s direction. He, of course, doesn’t hear her, so I look in the open driver’s window across at her in the front passenger seat and she waves me aside. ‘No, not you,’ she indicates with a dismissive wave, ‘The bald gentleman; Well, the bald gentleman with the white hair; OK, the bald gentleman with the white hair and the walking stick.’
Oh. So she doesn’t mean me.
He sticks his head in the window. ‘Were you going to walk right by me?’ she asks. Hello! He smiles, switching straight into charm mode; Who are you? Ooh, she thinks. Some doubt creeps in. ‘Aren’t you . .’ she starts and hits a geriatric blank. Staring at him, knowing she knows him but has just lost his name right now. It’s on the tip of her tongue. ‘Um, aren’t you . .’ she repeats. Who are you? he repeats.
They reach out to shake hands – instinctive, cos if you’ve been to Maritzburg College and St Annes or Epworth and lived through a world war, that’s what you do. So they’re now holding hands both being furiously pleasant and both trying to figure out who the hell this other person is.
She changes tack: ‘I bet you I’m older than you,’ she says.
YUSSIS! That MAKES his day! He’s had a bit of a rough day with his idiot son who doesn’t know when to shut up and just nod him yes, so this – THIS – is a godsend. He jumps up in the air, clicks his heels and leans right in to the car. The click might have been his teeth.
I’ll bet you you’re not! he challenges. ‘I bet you I am,’ she repeats confidently. I’ll bet you . . how much you wanna bet? he says. They’re still holding hands and staring into each others eyes. It’s getting ‘Yes I am; No you’re not!’ stuck, so I chip in. How about one Rand? I suggest. ‘Well, I only have ten Rand,’ she fibs. I’ll take you on, he says, How old are you? She leans back and puffs out her bosom and announces triumphantly ‘Nearly ninety ONE.’
WELL! Victory is his! He wriggles with glee and says I’m . . . . no. This is my son Koos. Koos, you tell her how old I am! The old goat is 96 in the shade, I say. She deflates, he puffs up. He smoked her! Blew her doors off! Left her in his dust! Annihilated her. They’re still holding hands. He rubs it in: I prefer to say I’ve got four years to go to a hundred.
I walk off, leaving them to their embarrassment and awkward ending. Well, nice to have met you, he says. ‘Yes, indeed,’ she says, even though neither cagey old codger has divulged their name yet. The only name we have out of this joyful meeting of long-lost strangers so far is “Koos.”
As the old man leaves she outs when he’s ten metres down the drive with ‘So sorry to have mistaken you; Sorry to be a bother.’ That St Annes politeness training is deeply embedded. Of course he didn’t hear it. Ten metres is way out of range. Anyway, his face was wreathed in such a wide smile his ears were probably blocked by the wrinkles. This avenged the stinging loss he’d suffered at the College reunion.