Her face is stern, strong and lipsticked. She worked as a doctor in a hospital before her world was reduced, by “chronik fatik sydrom”, to a day-by-day struggle to feed herself and convince other doctors that she’s not mad. Today, when I run into her on Little Collins, she is all smiles. I know the drill – kiss, kiss, kiss, beginning with the right cheek. She tells me how radiant I look, although I know she is disappointed about my hair (“Now that your hairstyle is more sophisticated, you must begin to act this way,” she’d told me when I first cut it off.)
I brace myself and draw a sharp breath. “And how are you?”
“Ah well, you know, not very good.” I am expecting her to go on. I glance over her shoulder, in the direction of the station. My train is leaving soon. “But, you know, that is life.” She pauses and beams. “But you – you look like you’ve just come back from a wonderful holiday!”
I glance at my watch. “Actually, I’m about to go on one. Just for a few days, in Ocean Grove. Staying with a friend.”
“How WONDERFUL!” she cries. I’m not sure whether I’m meant to feel touched, or guilty for my gifts of youth and good health. “But,” she adds, with a warning tone, “Remember what they say. A guest is like a fish – good for about three days, but after that begins to smell!”
We laugh loud and high – I feel like I could be a fellow Ukrainian woman, sharing a joke that only Ukrainian women understand. This joke is a fairly generic one, but she makes me feel special, in her peculiar way.
We part in a flurry of smiles and laughs. I walk briskly onwards towards the station, grinning with pleasure.