Hilda, my neighbour

It was the autumn of 2002. We had just moved into our new house and the doorbell rang. It was Hilda with a bunch of flowers and a wide smile. She wanted to welcome us into the neighbourhood. What a lovely gesture I thought. We have never had anybody greet us like this before. Normally we just find out who our neighbours are once we’ve settled in and usually bump into them while we are tending to some work in the garden or outside.

Slowly over the years we got to know Hilda well. We would see her often in her kitchen from our window overlooking hers and from there she kept a watchful eye on our house when we were away. She gave us the lowdown on anybody we employed to do the gardening or any outside work. Depending on her assessment we knew who to call back and who not to.

Despite whatever life threw at her I have only seen Hilda upset once. That was after she had her hip surgery and was recovering. I didn’t get a proper parking space that day and could not stay for long. She was tearful. Maybe it was the anaesthetic, maybe it was a number of other factors. I could only ask the nurses to keep a close eye on her before I left that day. The next day she was back to her normal self again. She was never one to complain and always made short shrift of her problems by dismissing them with a cursory wave.

Hilda moved away to live with her daughter over two years ago. The familiar face from across the road had moved but it was still easy to visit her. She loved to see little Lakshmi and Lakshmi loved the visits as well. I worried that Lakshmi would damage Hilda’s ornaments but Lakshmi was only interested in Hilda’s fruit basket and the contents of her handbag. She would sit around playing happily as we chatted.

Hilda is not very well and may not last the week. It was snowing yesterday and as I was showing Lakshmi the falling snowflakes, my eyes wandered to Hilda’s window. It suddenly struck me that the day we’ve dreaded is finally getting close. The smiling face and friendly wave is fading. The warm hugs will soon be no more. The cheerful friendly phone messages have stopped. We hoped to see Hilda get her birthday telegram from the Queen in a couple of years, but it is not to be.

Hilda is everyone’s lovable grandmother. Everyone who knew her adored her. She will be sadly missed but Hilda will be with her George, the love of her life and having a whale of a time catching up on all the lost time that they should have spent together but couldn’t.

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