Queen Elizabeth’s telegram

For years I have been part of a group that visits people who live alone or have a disability. We bring mineral water seasonal fruits, do a little gardening, change light bulbs and, on some special dates, knock on the door with a cappuccino and a slice of cake in hand.


Two ladies enchanted most of the people I met: Anette and Miss Maria.


From Anette’s stories, I created the character Elabella, a young university student with braids in her hair who used to close her eyes when she smiled. Ellabela appears in my novel “The Observer” and was born from the various accounts of this lady, who used to cry in front of the sea when she became disillusioned with life and her loves.


Dona Maria was a Portuguese lady who emigrated to London when she was 12 years old. She was a hundred years old when I first met her. Whenever I visited her, Maria was in the habit of opening an oak chest to show me the telegram received from Queen Elizabeth. Maria always complained said that her old age was difficult and that, as she was born Catholic, she couldn’t kill herself.


Once, when visiting her, I offered her a piece of cake and heard her say:


            – Thanks for the reminder, but I won’t accept it because refined sugar attacks my liver. Sweets, like only the custard tarts, because they remind me of my childhood in Lisbon. Leave him by the window, and I’ll give him to the birds, my only company. They appear every day, in the late afternoon, before climbing trees.


Then, leaning on her cane, she reached into the pocket of her dress, opened the oak chest to hold the queen’s telegram, and heard me comment:


            – You have an old diary. Are your memories?


She quickly locked the oak chest, put the key in her pocket and replied:


            “Well, if it’s a diary, it can only keep memories. I got it from my mother on her deathbed, and she from a writer cousin.


Curious and seeing that the birds began to jump impatiently on the lawn in the garden, I opened the window and asked:


            – Do you remember your relative’s name?


She asked for space with her cane, threw oat and sunflower seeds into the garden and replied:


            “Of course, I did because he was my mother’s cousin! His name was Fernando Pessoa, but he’s also dead. Did you know him?


            I looked at the locked trunk and Maria’s pocket with my hands on my head. As I said goodbye, I heard the centenarian speak again:


            – Next time, please bring me custard tarts!


Thoughtfully, I returned home and, after three weeks, I received a phone call: Dona Maria had returned to the stars. Then I remembered her chest, and I said to myself:


            – Surely, she took the key with her! Maria lives today in the fields of my memory – where she continues to throw oat and sunflower seeds to the birds – and she will be eternalised in my next novel.

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