She sat, twisted; in an ancient rusty wheelchair that was probably as old as she; this woman in her late fifties. The wheelchair alone betrayed her status, no high-tech aluminium here. Some wood, dirty dry spokes and worn grey paint. But it suited her, this suffer of Parkinson's disease.
She stared. At what, only her distraught husband knew. Her eyes, like her almost white hair were dry; not lifeless but dry in the sense that they understood nothing. She gazed across the large hall to the golden cross, her focus unchanging when anyone passed in front. She could have been seeing into the future or the past as far as I could tell.
She looked relaxed. Except for her hands and wrists, the former, which continually shook, and the latter that cruelly bent back on themselves. Her head hung to one side, her bottom lip glistened with transparent drawl. A white towel lay on her sunken chest.
We were in church. A Tuesday coffee morning, but I'm guessing that she did not know that. He knew that. Her huge brute of a husband, in looks only of course. I'm guessing a one-time bouncer or a boxer. Almost certainly an ex convict. I look for spirituality in his face, but see none. A face that, in its time, had almost certainly made the acquaintance of a multitude of Essex fists.
Nevertheless, where anger and panic once resided, now only tenderness existed. It was clear to all that his concern was only for her. Where had they met? How had she quietened his life? Made him fall so much in love with her? Where had that happened? Such un-opened history.
His suit was poorly made, his shirt un-ironed, a plain blue tie messy with a breakfast, and he needed new shoes. He was a plain man now as well; something of the ego had diminished him. He neither smiled nor frowned but there was panic around his eyes. Panic probably even he was not aware of yet. Although about the same age as his wife (I could see their tokens of love around their ring fingers) he had no hair left and his spectacles were broken in three places. What was their history? Marriage in the seventies? Thinner, hipper, trendier? How has time brought them to this?
His clothes were props now. Props brought at the many local charity shops, as was her simple floral patterned dress, obviously purchased for her as no woman in charge of her own mind under the age of sixty would have considered it. And no earrings or adornments of any kind. Not the sort of things in which he had an interest.
Occasionally, he swung a huge arm out, grasped his cup and passed it under his bland and stale-looking red moustache and drank but, when he was not doing that, both his huge hairy hands were touching hers, trying so absolutely, but in vain to keep them still.
They pampered and pawed, stroked and caressed, knitted and uncrossed, and all with unimaginable, unbearable tenderness. Here truly was a man learning to be another man, and with a woman lost to him. Here was a man who once whispered in his wife's ear, ‘Tienes mi corazon’ - you have my heart. A phrase learnt when honeymooning in Latin America and never forgotten.
They remained like that, facing the alter, while I finished my own coffee, and I wondered what the next ten years would be like for them, more him than her I will admit. For she had already left the marriage, and the life cared for by social services. Although when a sunbeam illuminated her face, her jarring neck twitched gently upwards to meet it, but I've a feeling it was an automatic response. Her fingers never ceased their eternal muscular chatter.
Who would he become after his darling wife died? How would he spend his time? Something told me there were no children. Something told me most of him would die too.
They exuded poverty on every level, but they were a queen and a king as far as I could imagine. A half an hour later, about to get my bus, I strolled through the shopping precinct, and came upon them once again, this time outside Boots.
He was on his knees, his face the subject of immense sadness and concentration as he held a straw to her mouth dipped into a can of inexpensive cola. They were silent, and I wondered about their last conversation.
I pretended to window-shop, but the more I watched, the more impotent I became. I was not the only voyageur; shoppers glanced too, but the man was oblivious to all except her needs. I do not have a name for that type of love. But I have never received or given it.