For many years now, I’ve been doing the shopping every Friday morning. I saunter through the markets, I’m retired after all. Eleanor is retired too. What do you mean, who is Eleanor? Eleanor, my neighbor. God help you if you get her to bad-mouth you, the entire Olt river won’t make you clean again. Everyone respects her and greets her in our block of flats. Women bolt away like the devil from incense. Men, however, take off their hats fifteen paces away. Hello, Mrs. Eleanor, the president of the residents’ association greets her from afar. How do you do, my dear lady, lawyer Buruiana from the second floor fawns. Have a wonderful day, the liberal Alin from the fourth floor reveals the immaculate white of his false teeth. What a spring day, Mrs. Eleanor, accountant Dita, from the 21st floor, smirks. Oh, but what beautiful pansies have sprouted in our block, the ones you had sowed, Mrs. Eleonora, the actor Alexandrescu from the ground floor smiles at her. May the Lord bless you with as many years as our father Noah, Father Zarsanufie makes a big cross quickly, blessing Eleanor and extending his hand, which the dear neighbor never kisses. When it comes to Eleanor, the Father does not demand his right hand to be kissed, like for the other believers. It was also the Reverend Father who whispered to me one day. See there, she can’t stand you much and doesn’t want to take notice of you. She says you don’t know how to say hello.
Today, Friday, there are two bad hours and a black cat. I have just run into her in the supermarket door. I was about to go in, she to go out, laden with nets and bags, like a bee laden with “first-rate” pollen. Embarrassed, I offer to help, a bit reluctantly. Satisfied, she drops her bags in my hands. I bend under their weight, like a car with a broken suspension. My knees tremble, but I grin and bear it. Finally, I get to drop the bags next to her jalopy. Before I even get to catch my breath, she jumps.
“Oh my God, what are you doing! Are you crazy? You put them down. So I carry the virus home. I shouldn’t have given them to you. You are irresponsible. Why didn’t you tell me you’d put them down? I’d have minded my own business and carried them myself. Now, you’ve infected my food and I can’t use it anymore. And you say you’re a writer. Who do you think you are? Nobody reads you anyway. I knew you were good for nothing. Go find yourself some real work. For two hours I’ve been toiling in the aisles to choose good products. I’ve conceded to you so you now drag my goods through the dust and COVID. Shame on you, are you a man or a crybaby? What are you doing here anyway?”
“Buying a little something,” I answer, taken aback.
“What do you know to buy?” she assaults me relentlessly.
“An apple, a banana, some vegetables,” I whisper.
“Ough, hear there, an apple, a banana… You think this is food? That’s why you can’t even carry a bag. You know nothing. Get some fresh fish. Salmon. Or at least trout. Buy yourself, darn it, a pork leg. Some cheese and Sibiu salami. And twenty mici, the fatty type, from sheep with tallow. Don’t you see how skinny you are. Who’s even going to look at you. Only skin and bones. If I hadn’t given you the basket, the wind would have blown you away. Pick up also a bottle of black bull wine, the type women like when men drink it. When was the last time you held a woman in your arms, you sissy? Off with you, go shopping. When you come back, don’t go dare go up the block stairs until I see what you bought. Do you understand me, little writer?”
I want to see Father Zarsanufie now, if he’d still tell my neighbor Eleanor doesn’t take notice of me.