A long-held regret
A letter to:
This is one of a series of letters from the public. Here, a woman wishes she'd invited a stranger to tea.
I have just worked out that it is 38 years since you tapped on your window as I was walking by. I was probably in my usual dream, because I remember looking around bemusedly for the source of the noise. You tapped again, loudly, and I looked up from the pavement to see you at the bay window of your rather grand house, an elderly Jewish lady with the saddest face.
You beckoned to me, mouthing something. 'Wait, wait!' I think you were saying. I waited.
You came to your door and opened it a little, and beckoned me through the gate and up the steps to where you stood. You were dressed in black, and in the grey London daylight you looked even sadder than before. You held a letter in your hand, and you gave it to me when I reached you.
"Please would you post this for me," you asked. "I cannot walk to the pillar box, it is too far for me these days.
"Of course, of course," I said, noticing as I took the envelope that it was quite smudged, though legible.
When I looked at your sad, dark face I felt stabbed with pity that you had no-one else to ask, just a passing girl unknown to you. I thought of my own grandmother, 12,000 miles away from your Golders Green street, surrounded by loving family.
"Are you all right?" I asked, lamely.
To my horror, your face crumbled, and you said: "No, no, not all right, this has been a horrible year, not all right at all."
As you said this, you backed into your dark hallway and closed your door.
I stood where I was, totally at a loss. How I wish, now, and how I have wished whenever I have remembered you over the years, that I had had the courage to ring your bell and ask if I could help.
I posted your letter and went home. When I told Elaine, my flatmate, about you, her response was immediate and very English.
"Invite her around for tea."
So sorry, but I never did. I can think of excuses, such as the excitement and joy of being my friend's bridesmaid, and all the whizziness of London life, but I should have gone back, I should have found the confidence to knock on your door and to ask how you were. I do hope things came right for you. I'd love to have seen you smile.
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