They were my neighbors on the other side of the road. People called them "the Siamese twins."
According to local legend, they had been married for seventy years. No one had ever seen one of them without the other. They did not appear to have any family, not even a child.
They lived a life regimented like clockwork. At ten o’clock, they went shopping. You wouldn’t think they ate much at all. A child’s size shopping bag hung from the woman’s arm. Of stunted growth, both built to the same pattern, although the man was beginning to stoop whereas she walked as erect as ever.
I used to think, “I bet it’s her who wears the pants.”
They always held hands. Her left hand in his right. Fingers entwined like lovers the morning after. They spoke to no one. I never heard them laugh or raise their voices. They went about their business in silence, at an ambling pace. The steps of one following the steps of the other.
They dressed identically in all weathers, in black pants and gull colored raincoats. The only thing cheering up their appearance was the tartan bag.
They would come home one hour later, nibble at a few crumbs and reappear again after their nap, for the daily walk. Their amble around the block of buildings followed a route established since the dawn of time. They would cross the main street at the traffic lights. Then walk past stores which changed from time to time. Only they themselves never changed. They would read the death notices pinned outside the registrar’s office. And go into the church for five minutes to give thanks that they did not appear in these lists. Every day that God made, Saturday and Sunday included.
The stroll lasted one and a half hours, timed to the minute.
When the church bell rang seven o’clock, the man would come out to push the blue wooden shutters, which his wife would catch hold of from inside to close. I could see her stretching up on her toes to reach. A ray of light filtered through the slats until the lights went out at 10 p.m. precisely.
I could have envied this perfect communion, an osmosis of every moment. Perhaps the secret of success of life as a couple.
One morning, the woman came out on her own. In black pants and a raincoat. As straight-backed as ever.
The neighbors were in turmoil, calling to each other from their windows, “Have you heard the news?” The whole area was buzzing as the day broke.
Her husband was buried three days later; he had died during the night.
I thought she would not survive him for long. But I was wrong.
The day after the funeral, she took up the rhythm of her life again, following the same routine.
Holding on a lead a black poodle dressed in a little gull-colored raincoat.
Translated by Wendy Cross