Violet

She sat in her glass office

like a little bird in a cage,

slight and wispy haired.

I was a flustered foreigner

looking for a place to stay:

"You'll like it," she volunteered,

"the food, for one, is excellent.

I can vouch for it because

I eat breakfast and lunch here."

She looked at me kindly

and stubbed her cigarette.

 

Every morning on my way to breakfast,

I would pause by her office and say,

"'Morning Violet," to which she replied,

"Well, good morning.  How are you today?"

Then we would make small talk

usually discussing the weather

or her health.  Before leaving

I would say, "Have a good day, Violet,"

in the newly acquired American way.

 

So a semester passed.

Having other friends now,

I discontinued my daily courtesy.

Once, seeing me slink past her office,

she called, and began talking excitedly

before noticing that I wasn't

particularly interested.

Then, to my tongue-tied shame

came the moment of recognition

when she perceived my indifference.

I clumsily wished her good day

but could not escape the hurt

slowly creeping into her eyes.

 

Having resolved never to slight her again thereafter

I again began to greet Violet faithfully every day.

On Fridays we would wish each other a good weekend,

resuming our conversations, on Mondays.

In this manner, snow-fall succeeded leaf-fall.

As the weather worsened

Violet coughed badly

complaining more than usual about her health.

I tried to coax her into quitting smoking,

but though she refrained in my presence,

the full ashtray always gave her away.

 

At the end of the spring semester

I moved into my own apartment.

Our parting was brief and hurried.

A few days later I saw her at the street corner,

for the first time outside her office.

She wore a blue coat, with a chiffon scarf

primly tied under her chin.

I had never realized how frail she was.

Her back was turned to me

and I was heading in another direction,

so I left her waiting there,

without exchanging a word.

 

Two weeks later

I was standing by Violet's glass window

anticipating the pleasure of meeting her.

Her chair was empty

as if she had stepped out for a minute:

(I half looked for the

"Will be back in five minutes" sign.)

The door opened.

An unfamiliar face advanced:

"May I help you?"

A bit unsettled, I blurted:

"Where's Violet?"

 

She had no family, few friends,

very little money.  She lived alone;

wanted to die before becoming helpless.

Her church had started a collection

to pay for the funeral:

did I wish to contribute?

 

I cared for the living,

but felt no pangs for the dead.

Violet died of lung cancer.

So sudden her departure--

I was vaguely betrayed.

"She didn't tell me," I thought,

"she went away without letting me wish her good day."

 


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  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape