In the one and a half years that we’ve lived here I’ve only visited her one time. Although her family visited several times a week, I knew that she was lonely. She would sometimes sit on her front porch, leaning against the brick wall in her pale flowered house dress with her swollen legs and feet disappearing into shapeless slippers and floppy ankle socks.
Or if she was having a better day she’d sit on her back porch and call out “Hello Neighbour.” I’d respond and walk over to the fence to exchange a few thoughts about the weather. Katrina invited me over one day to pick plums. While I picked she urged me “Take more. Take more.” My husband doesn’t eat much fruit and I didn’t want the plums to go bad. I offered her grapes from our vines but she said she couldn’t eat them.
One day an overflowing basket of tomatoes appeared on our porch.I knew that Katrina’s son must have brought them over. She had said once in response to a question about visiting that she thought people didn’t visit her because she was from another country.
To prove her wrong I did visit one afternoon bringing a small item with me as an excuse to visit. I rang the bell. Nothing. Another ring. Waiting. Finally a tiny corner of the front curtain lifted and I caught a quick glimpse of a face. Still no one came to the door. I called out, “It’s your neighbour.” Ready to give up, I set down my small offering and began to walk down the steps. Just then the door opened a crack. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Come in. I get nervous about strangers so I never open the door unless I know for sure who it is.”
I followed her into a kitchen so clean that I couldn’t help wondering if it was ever used. The counter was bare except for one glass. and a bottle of orange liquid.
We both sat down a little self consciously on the kitchen chairs side by side wondering what to say. Weather is a pretty safe topic. We talked about that for a few seconds.
Would you like something to drink?
Alright, thank-you. Just water is fine.
Oh, I have orange juice.
Okay thank-you. I don’t want you to go to any trouble.
Oh, it’s no trouble.
She rose awkwardly and shuffled to the counter where she poured me a bottle of orange drink.
Katrina talked about her health, how her husband used to be such a good gardener until he went into the nursing home, how her son and daughter in law helped around the yard, how she used to walk many blocks around the neighbourhood, how lonely she felt.
Would you like to come to one of my Tai Chi classes some day?
“Maybe” she said slowly. When do you go?
Mondays and Fridays in the morning. Monday would likely be better because I only go for an hour.
A few days later her son called across when I was outside. “My mother really couldn’t come to your class because she couldn’t sit or stand for that long and she might have to come home early. Thank-you for asking though.”
After that day, I didn’t visit again but I should have if only to prove that it didn’t matter that she was from another country. Instead I stayed at home working on my computer or playing games with my granddaughter or walking around the neighbourhood with my husband or reading but mainly working on the computer.
I waited too late and now my neighbour is dead.