“Auf die Minute!”

Auf die Minute! Frau Bienkowski says, glancing at the clock which hangs to her right.

This is always my greeting. It is the third and final thing that happens before we shake hands.

First I knock twice on the door. Frau Bienkowski says “Ja” in two syllables, which she stresses equally.

And as I am pushing open the door and making my way past where her coat hangs, she says it.

Auf die Minute! – to the minute!

Once, Frau Bienkowski had another visitor – a lady – when I knocked on the door at precisely 3 o’clock.

Auf die Minute! they said in unison, because Frau Bienkowski had told the lady that I come exactly on time, every time. And we all laughed.

“So gehört es sich auch,” – that’s how it should be – I retort as I take the hand she has outstretched.

Sometimes Frau Bienkowski playfully teases me about my punctuality.

“You must pace around the corridors!” she says.

“The corridors? Are you joking? I go for a walk in the gardens!”

It is a source of immeasurable pride that my punctuality amuses and reassures a German. A 94-year-old German at that.

I have not told Frau Bienkowski that she alone benefits from my impeccable timekeeping and that back home, my parents are bemused by what they called my “scurry” – a trademark dash out the door which I perform with my shoulders hunched forward, my head down and usually missing an item vital to the appointment I am trying to make.

Today Frau Bienkowski is wearing a yellow jumper with short sleeves. She matches the apricots I have brought her.

“I couldn’t find the Turkish apricots which you requested,” I tell her. “These are Greek.”

“Oh, perfect,” she says.

“And they are still a little hard. But I chose them deliberately because they go soft so quickly.”

“Absolutely right,” she says, digging out her purse and pouring coins onto the table. “Now, what do I owe you?”

“Nothing,” I say. “I get a monthly travel allowance of €25 for visiting you, which I do not use because I walk. I think it’s well spent on apricots.”

“Katechen,” she says, as more coins topple out of her purse. “I swear to you, I will not ask you to get me anything ever again if you do this!”

“But I don’t need the…”

“Katechen!”

“They cost €2.29,” I say.

“Good,” she says. “Take €2.50.”

“Ha! You must be joking.”

Frau Bienkowski digs her fingers through the netting of the plastic container. She gropes the apricots, pressing them with her forefinger and thumb.

“Let’s have one each,” she says.

I take them and rinse them under the tap in her toilet sink.

To the left there is a plastic shower seat, where Frau Bienkowski sits when she gets her back washed.

“It is the only thing I can’t do for myself,” she has told me many times. “I can still do everything else. I can get dressed, and make my way downstairs for lunch. I always say, as long as I still can, I will…But I can’t reach my back any longer.”

We sit by the window, munching apricots.

It is a dull day, but every now and then, the sun breaks out from behind the clouds.

On the window sill is a line of pots.

“Look,” Frau Bienkowski says, pointing to the pot of carnations I brought for her birthday.

They are deep pink and in full bloom.

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Why did the three little boys go to the market?

Yesterday LSB and I wandered into a little shop in Crumlin called “Better Value”. It was full of cardboard boxes and handwritten signs in black marker advertising Pringles, Chocolate Chip cookies and washing detergent. It looked like something from a feature film about Ireland in the 1980’s and I liked it very much.

image source: dublin.ratemyarea.com

The man at the counter was tall and thin and had a nice tanned face. He was being bombarded by three little boys, aged about seven. Two had freckles and similar round faces and the third had black eyes and floppy hair. They were hurling questions at the shopkeeper and he said, “Where’s your manners?”

The three boys each bought a bottle of Jones soda. “I’ve never had the blue one!!” said one. Outside, they ripped the wrappers off their bottles and dropped them on the pavement, where they curled up and quivered in the breeze.

image source: compare.productwiki.com

“Are you going to pick that up?” I asked one of the boys with freckles.

“No,” he said loudly. He was defiant and tiny.

I was wearing a black puffy jacket. In it, I was more than twice his size.

“And why not?” I asked him.

“Cause I don’t wanta,” he said.

I told him about dirty streets and the poor people that had to pick things up after litter bugs.

He talked over me to his friends.

LSB was standing a little away from the scene. The boys and I walked towards him.

LSB was wearing headphones.

“Are they beats?” one of the boys shouted at him.

image source :lovefont.blogspot.com

Apparently “beats” are the name of a pair of extortionate headphones produced by American rapper Dr Dre. Harvey Norman sell them for €299.

LSB shook his head.

The three little boys, clutching their bottles of American soda, schooled only in commercialism and brashness, brushed by us in a blur.