“Willy Brandt wouldn’t really have been my type,” Frau Bienkowski says, examining the Tagesspiegel’s full-page spread in his honour.
“Nor mine” I say.
“He was a bit of a womaniser.”
“Well, just as well he’s not our type!”
She laughs. “Shall we get some coffee?”
“So Katechen, tell me about your week.”
I tell her about my friend’s visit and our trip to Dresden. And about work and the Christmas parties I’d been to.
She tells me her niece is arranging a little Christmas party for her and that the cooks downstairs have agreed to roast them a goose.
This will be Frau B’s 95th Christmas. She has decorated her room with electric candles (real ones are deemed too hazardous in the home), a bunch of deep red flowers and a table cloth she made herself.
We agree that Christmas is an event choreographed by women and enjoyed by men.
“I remember my father standing by the fire once. It was just after Christmas and he was saying ‘Oh, it’s a wonderful time of year! I could do this all over again.’ Quick as lightening my mother piped up ‘No wonder – you didn’t have to lift a finger! ’”
Frau P smiles. “I’ll never forget that!”
I take out my gift for Frau P.
It is poorly wrapped in grey tissue paper.
She opens it gingerly and fingers the picture frame.
Because she has impeccable manners she says immediately: “Oh, it’s lovely!”
But I can tell she hasn’t seen it properly yet. I wait for a moment while she examines it more closely.
“Is that… us?” she asks.
“Do you remember my parents when my parents came to visit in the summer?” I say.
“Oh yes!” she says. “Thank you, Katechen – that makes me really happy!”
“Now,” she says. “It’s my turn.”
“What? Frau B … you’re shouldn’t have.. ”
She hands me a little package wrapped in reindeer-themed paper. “It’s just five bars of chocolate,” she says. “You know I can’t get out to the shops.” Then she presses an envelope into my hand.
“Open this at home,” she says. “It’s for you and Andrew. I made an attempt at writing but you know I’m no longer capable of it.”
I stammer a thanks and tuck the envelope into my bag.
I pick up the book about the Irish nuns.
(My current fine on it is €8.75)
“It’s amazing how long we’ve been at this,” she says. “We are just so good at chatting!”
“I reckon we’ll have it done by this time next year,” I venture.
“Oh come on Katechen,” she says. “How long are you expecting me to live?”
“Oh, there’s life left in you yet!” I say – brightly because that is the only way to talk about death to a 95 year-old.
Later on at home, I open the envelope. Inside is €30.
I can’t make out much of what it says in the card inside but I can discern the word “Katechen.”