The Two Old People

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As I go down the alleyway that looks onto their home, I catch sight of the two old people with their backs to me. They are sitting shrivelled before a fire which warms the only room on the ground floor. The tartan blanket covering their frail legs is as old as they are. In the middle, like a bridge between them, their hands are resting one on top of the other. They are not saying a word; at least, they do not seem to be. The clock is silent too, and has been for a very long time. It would not be able to tell us how long these two have been like that, sitting next to each other, without a word but together.
They have nothing more to say but they have been through everything.
Since that church pew in the middle of the village where their passionate expressions had sworn, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”, to love each other forever; through the honey, the moon and the dawns that saw the birth of love and then two, no three, babies; to the bars frequented, sometimes a bit too much, with broken glass and hearts picked up in tears; to crumpled, unfaithful sheets, with some forgiveness granted and some extricated. To the buried bitterness, denied and swept aside, to the memories retained of the good times spent around the table at Christmas and Easter; to the laughter of their children who tied them down instead of offering a greater freedom. To the fears that held them back, to those that made them flee; to the words that were screamed and then regretted, to those they held back but should have said; to the confessions made a little too willingly, which did nothing but hurt. To the lack of understanding that wounds somewhat; to the secrets disguised and those divined; to the kisses shared and those begged for; the old people have crossed many deserts and suffered many trials.
I wondered, however, how many times they had dreamed of running away and starting all over again.
I, in the midst of lovelorn torment, was overwhelmed by the sight of those two old people, but why?
Did I want to be like them? What was the price of the sacrifices needed to reach that goal? Do you have to die for love? Do you have to bleed for it, and give up your freedom? Are those two old people free, have they ever been?
How many days, how many eternities do you rub along together, tear each other to pieces, ignore each other, forgive each other, come back together again, patch things up?
How many days do you wither in the deserts of loneliness when you are sharing the bed of another without being happy? Must you even feign love for days or years, until you finally reach that day when you are sitting there in front of that fire which consumes itself like our souls and the shreds of our being?
Must we put aside our ideals and desires that are more passionate and ephemeral than a secure, long-term bedrock to cement the commitment?
What do those two old folk think? Do they regret staying? Are they glad they managed to quieten certain secrets and those desires which rise up like waves to sweep away promises like a house of cards?
Have they taken heart from the richness of a safe shelter and a hand, even if dried and withered?
Two old people on the dawn of eternity, holding hands in front of the fire. They have sworn to be faithful, they have messed up and fallen, but they have managed to get up again. They thought it right to continue walking day after day so that love, would be graven upon them like an oath, like a constant.
And what do the emptiness, deserts and tears matter? If you have to go through them to reach this goal, to be together, and that’s just how it is.
And that’s how it is! But is that all I want?
Is that the only desire I have in me?
I left the two old people, I crossed the street with both hands in my pockets and pushed open the creaking door of the church. Sitting there on the pew, I ordered a beer and the dishevelled priest smiled tenderly.
You’re nearly there, it’s the next door down, old chap.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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