He eats here often. They know his name and they serve good old fashioned food. The cook isn’t from New Zealand and nor are most of the rest of the staff. Sometimes it can be hard to understand them but they are all very nice. This young lady though, you can tell what she’s saying.
‘How are you David? What do you fancy today? We’ve got some nice roast pork and veges – would that suit you?’ Her badge announces her name is Melanie.
‘That will do nicely thank you.’
‘OK let’s get you settled and then I’ll bring your lunch over.’
She guides him to a table and pulls out a chair for him. A woman is already seated there. He looks around to see if she has company, she appears to be alone. Still, he pauses before he sits.
‘Do you mind? They suggested I sit here.’
She smiles back and makes him welcome. Her eyes are lavender blue; she wears a little lipstick and perhaps a touch of powder – nothing garish. Her hair frames her face in a pleasant band of soft greys and white. Beauty is sometimes harder to see in a worn face – but not this one.
He wonders what to say next. Do you come here often? No, that was a tired old line. Now he is afraid he has made eye contact a little too long and still hasn’t made small talk. She saves him,
‘I’m Sophia. It’s a lovely day isn’t it?’
She has a slight accent. Sophia. He replays her name listening to the sound of it again in his mind. Sophia. It feels exotic and familiar all at once. She is right, it is a lovely day – although he hadn’t been aware of that until he sat down with her.
‘A perfect day, Sophia. My name is David.’
Could that be disappointment in her face? It’s gone in an instant and her smile is back.
‘David. I once knew a David very well.’
He feels a rush of jealousy about this other David. The time he spent with her, all he knew about her. Never mind, he is with her now.
Their lunch arrives as she chats. She tells him she used to make her roast pumpkin with a little nutmeg. He remembers coming home to that smell himself.
‘My wife made roast pumpkin that way,’ he tells her.
‘What was she like?’ asks Sophia.
What was she like? There should be something there for him to say. He can’t find it. He had a wife – where is she? He is an old man, he knows that. He calms a sense of rising panic. This is difficult ground, he puts down his knife and fork and places his hands on the table. He will just be honest with her.
‘I’m sorry Sophia, sometimes I forget things.’
He feels her hand over his. He feels the warmth and gentleness and the way it fits. It says she understands. She wears wedding rings. Perhaps she has lost a husband somewhere too. He relaxes, smiles. They eat. She takes small bites and bends a little closer to him. He feels unreasonably happy and is surprised when he looks to find his plate empty. Too late he thinks of delaying the meal to stay by her side.
Melanie is back to clear the plates. She chatters about the rugby and asks them about dessert. Sophia declines so David does too.
‘David, if you aren’t busy there’s a garden through those doors. Would like you like to take a walk?’
Did the sun just come out from behind clouds or does she just make everything brighter? As she rises he sees her neat blouse and dove grey cardigan are matched by a navy skirt and low heeled shoes. He takes her arm and then hesitates, wondering which way to steer – but Melanie fortuitously happens by again and points the way. She hands him his jacket and he fumbles as he gets it on. Through the French doors is an efficient garden of clipped hedges and lavender. No lawn, just pavers – he imagines it’s easier to keep up that way and says so too.
‘What would you plant?’
‘Hydrangeas would soften it a bit and they’re really no trouble.’
They pause at a bench and take in the view. Sophia points out Wellington Hospital and the Governor General’s house. She chats about her sister and growing up in Island Bay. As he relaxes he begins to join in – he went to Island Bay too as a child. They would take the tram, his mother and his brother. Once they were rowed to the little island for a picnic. David and Sophia mused that they may have paddled on the beach on the same day.
Sophia asks him about his work before he retired. David tells her he worked for a shipping company. He travelled with the company before returning to Wellington. He logged all the freight coming into the port. And he met his wife here in Wellington. She was at a dance. He fell in front of her. The first thing he ever saw of her was her hands – reaching down to help pick him up.
‘She was a beautiful woman. Her parents were German but they were lucky and they got out of there before the war. They lost all their relatives though. They had a hard time of it. She has a beautiful name. Sometimes I forget things. Her name is beautiful. I can’t quite remember it. It has an O in it. Is it Josephine?’
‘I think it might be Sophia.’
‘Oh Sophia. Oh my dear I’ve forgotten you. How did I do that?’
He is crying now with humiliation and frustration and fear. How long has he been like this? And that other David she talked about, that’s him except he doesn’t have the memories of her. Why remember the wretched shipping company and not her?
‘You’re so smart David. It’s a cruel disease darling, erasing people. But you’re happy David. You like this place. Some days you remember things and some days you don’t. It’s OK, we remember you.’
‘Sophia can I tell you something?’
‘Of course David.’
He looks at her. He still can’t connect her with the wife he dimly recalls. But he knows this:
‘As soon as I saw you at lunch today, I fell in love with you.’
Sophia holds his hands and kisses him. The smell of her is a comfort and caress. He whispers into her hair, ‘Sometimes I forget things.’
‘I know David.’
When she leaves he is tired. Melanie comes over and asks him if he’d like to watch a film. Later, Jonathon takes him up to his room. He waits while David puts on his pyjamas and brushes his teeth in the bathroom because sometimes he forgets. When he comes back in Jonathon has folded down his covers.
‘How was your day David?’
‘Good. I had a visitor. A woman. We had lunch and we talked and talked. She’s my girlfriend.’
‘Good for you David. I hope I get to meet her. What’s her name?’
‘Oh it’s a beautiful name. It has an O in it.’