There are regrets in life whereby the journey itself isn’t recognized. Whatever one does now does reflect the future even though the past continues to thrive for no other reason than because of our existence. I did not put my existence to who she was until the very end. It is only tears that bring agony whereby misery exists in the past, future, and present.
There are times we need to question human behavior, especially when a cruel act that occurred more than sixty years ago can still linger in the future. Perhaps you can erase the memories and make them go away, but the mind acts like a trigger ready to explode, bringing the person back in time. In our society, who cares about an old woman that never believed in herself? Who cares about a woman that never felt special or worthy of living?
The journey started when a lady occupying an upstairs apartment beside our store, dropped in and complained about the excess garbage we leave on the sidewalk. She cited, “I’ve lived here thirty years and I never had any problems. Everything in the neighborhood was peaceful until you moved in next door to me. I want you to move out. You don’t belong here.”
I shook my head in disbelief and pointed at the door, “Get lost, I have no time for this nonsense.” She stormed out of the store and then proceeded to rearrange my garbage. I followed her outside and shouted at her, “What the hell are you doing? Leave the trash alone. You have no business touching it. What’s the matter with you, have you lost your mind?” She ignored me and continued to rearrange the garbage.
I stood there watching over her. She pointed at the trash and told me it’s supposed to be nice and neat and not scattered all over the place. Then she sneered at me and walked away. What made my blood boil was her comment that I shouldn’t be there. I really didn’t care about the trash but she just jarred me the wrong way. I crossed the street to go buy cigarettes. My nerves were unraveling.
Andy, the proprietor of the store, saw what happened through the window. He lived his new life as a neglected retired soldier never actually trained to retire. He asked me why I shouted at an old woman. I shrugged my shoulders and said nothing. Andy handed me a pack of cigarettes and said: “Did you know she is the richest woman in the neighborhood. She won the lottery twice. She comes in the store frequently and never pays for anything. She usually picks up a loaf of bread and a can of sardines. Small items, it’s not going to drive me out of business. She lives alone, and her only surviving sister is still living in Warsaw. So be nice to her, she’s a good woman. I like to watch over her. Sometimes we have to take care of each other.”
I nodded in agreement, “I got angry when she told me I didn’t belong here.” Andy shook his head, “My memory escapes me half the time, but I remember she told me that she was born into a wealthy family. Their family donated large sums of money to the church in order to help the impoverished in Poland, but the money was used to spruce up churches in Italy and erect a statue in tribute to the Pope. It was tragic however, when the war came, the family lost their entire fortune. Good thing the churches took the gold out of Poland before the invasion.” “Everything turned out fine for her when she waved the winning ticket in front of my face. I checked all the numbers and all six came in. So leave her alone and let her arrange your garbage so it can be nice and neat for the garbage-man to pick up.” He said.
I immediately went back to the store and told an employee to organize the garbage and beautify it with some spray that smells nice. To my dismay I peered through the window store and there she was organizing my garbage again. I stormed out of the store and confronted her, “What the hell are you doing?” She looked up at me with her face showing her disdain. “Ever since you moved in here, everything changed.” She muttered something in Polish and then told me to get lost.
I smiled at her and told her, “Let’s be reasonable about this. Perhaps you’re having a bad day. You know I get moody also, but that doesn’t give you the right to mess with other people’s garbage. Sure, I know it’s a petty thing to argue about, but this is starting to really bug me. It’s like you’re announcing to the world that I’m unable to do a simple task as putting out the garbage.”
She glared at me and said, “Do you know who I am?” I nodded, “You are the richest woman in the neighborhood. Andy told me you won the lottery twice, but do you know what I think? I think that you go around pretending you won the lottery. Why would a millionaire live in an apartment and re-arrange garbage? It doesn’t add up. When I play the numbers, I tell my friends and family that I almost hit the jackpot. I tell them that I got five numbers out of six, despite having one number right. You know why I do it? Because it makes me feel good and it makes me feel very important. In this world, everybody wants to feel important.
She placed her hand on my shoulder and said, “I’ve been buying tickets for nearly fifteen years and I never won a dime. I can’t seem to do anything right anymore. I’d rather buy lottery tickets than purchase food. At least it gives me the chance to feel better about myself. Some men have class, an attribute that you will never possess as long as you live. You can shatter a person’s dream with just one word, but another man may look at my dream and nurture it with bread and dignity. I hope you never have to hold out your hand and beg for food. I hope you never live to see a nation starve to death. Sixty years ago, as a young woman, I had nothing to give but myself to survive.”
“My sister was younger and prettier than me. Do you believe that of all things, she fell in love with a soldier? For some reason, she couldn’t tell the difference between love and hate. I pleaded with my sister to tell the soldier that she didn’t love him, but she did it anyway.”
One day I noticed two men hauling furniture inside a van. I went over to Andy to ask him what happened to the old woman. Andy smiled, “I guess you mean Anna. She went back to Warsaw to stay with her sister. She told me she missed her. She took her money and donated it to a church.” That night, I went home, had supper, watched TV, and played with the kids. I went upstairs to sleep.
At 2 o’clock in the morning I woke up. My body fiercely convulsed as I tried to silence my tears. I made damn sure that my wife lying next to me couldn’t hear the agony built up inside of me. My punishment rested on the world itself that gave an old woman absolutely nothing but misery, tears, and a sister that only loved. Only Andy had the dignity to nourish an otherwise worthless woman with bread lifting her soul within God’s reach. God decided to embrace the soldier and the old woman as one.