Mrs F.

The day of the waste paper

Today I had a lovely encounter with an elderly lady in my little village in Wuppertal. I helped her and we got talking.

The day after Christmas. It should actually be called 'Waste Paper Day'. Or 'day of the slipping trousers', because I wasn't wearing a belt when I went to the waste paper container with my wife. Ever since 'Dead Duck Day', that strange Christmas film based on Nick Hornby's beautiful novel from the late nineties, I've had a bit of a thing about these names for absurd days.

The waste paper container in front of the Volksbank was full, but only on the side opposite the jars. The side facing the street was only half full. As always, we jammed some cardboard vertically into the slot. The hand surgeons' association must have been involved in the construction of these containers, as no waste paper can get into the container without bruising your fingers. A small punishment for all those who carry it there. Possibly?


My wife moved on, I went back and saw a slightly older lady stiffly waving her arms at the bench next to the monument to the Cronenberg blacksmith's trade. There was a red shopping bag on the bench. I didn't know her, but spoke to her anyway out of an inner need.

"You're making me feel guilty," I told her, "it reminds me of the sport I should be doing, but I'm not."

She replied, "It's not sport, I've just forgotten my trolley and the bag is too heavy for me." She looked at me worriedly: "Aren't you too cold in just this shirt?"

Smiling, I replied, "No. It was only to the waste paper and back. That's not far." Looking at the bag, I asked the friendly older lady, "Can I perhaps take the bag home for you?"

"Oh, that would be very nice. But isn't that too cold for you? You'll catch a cold!" I replied, "I don't think so. It's been so warm the last few days." After a moment's thought, I asked her intuitively, "Where do you live? If it's not that far..."

"Oh, just round the corner in ... Street."

I said to her, "I'm only half doing you that favour ..."

"... and half of them do it for yourself, right?" she interrupted me. Surprised and delighted, I added, "Yes, because you do so much for yourself when you do something for others."

"That's very true, unfortunately many people have forgotten."

I took her bag, she took her umbrella and off we went, crossing the road, like everyone else in the village, not through the traffic lights but behind them and keeping an eye out for the approaching cars from the main road.

"Careful!" I shouted, perhaps thinking a little too much about my wife with her eye problems.

We walked further down the hill and I asked the lady the question I like to ask everyone in the village after I unexpectedly got chatting to them. "Are you from here?"

"No, I moved here 15 years ago."

"You fulfil a cliché idea," I explained my question to the astonished lady. "I have the idea that it's only possible to make small talk in the English sense with non-Cronenbergers." And I added, "A cliché is a term that used to be used in printing technology to describe a copy, a proof and then became a metaphor for template-like thinking". I couldn't stop lecturing. It's a terrible habit of mine to share my knowledge of language with people.

As part of the conversation, it was completely normal for me, she hadn't even noticed the lecturer and I didn't usually mean it that way at all. I use my knowledge when I speak like a cushion that I put in someone's back for support, like a soft filling that makes everything less angular. And it's my nature, it just gushes out of me all the time, like from an untapped spring.

We walked on, I wasn't the least bit cold.

She asked me, "Do you come from this printing corner for a living?"

"Yes!" I replied, "I'm a trained designer and have done a lot of printed matter, but I'm also interested in the meaning of words. May I ask what you did for a living?".

"Of course," she stated somewhat dismissively, "I was just a simple secretary."

I readily admit that the 'just' once again astonished me. How many people in Germany might think that they 'only' do this or 'only' that. Insignificant cogs in the shadow of the big cogs and clock hands of professional life, in which they exist without recognition. So I said what I was thinking, perhaps a little too charmingly.

"Isn't it precisely these women who have ensured that this economy has run so smoothly for over 70 years?" Unfortunately, another cliché, but with a hard core like chocolate chunks.

"Yes, perhaps you're right," she said, and a real jolt went through her, she suddenly seemed more streamlined and rejuvenated to me, and she continued, "when I think about how many appointments I've remembered, all the things I've organised..."

It just bubbled out of her and I let her speak and listened with pleasure. It had been a nice, pleasant and useful little walk.

Then I remembered something. I had been rude, I hadn't even introduced myself.

"Excuse me. I hadn't introduced myself. My name is Thomas Schürmann. I live up here behind the café. Actually, behind all the houses on S. Street from number 3 to 9." We had arrived.

"My name is F., like the F."

There's something reassuring about empty phrases. You don't have to come up with a crazy formula, but on the other hand they are as flat as a strip of old Tesafilm if you don't emphasise them properly, so I said: "It was a pleasure!"

"For me too," she said and thanked me again explicitly. And then she added: "I wish you a happy new year!"

"I wish you the same. We all really need it."

We said our goodbyes. I went my way shivering, she went to her house. It had been a nice, unexpected encounter. I took it as proof of my faith.

tl, dr;

Today I had a lovely encounter with an elderly lady in my little village in Wuppertal. I helped her and we got talking on clichés and womans power in supporting men in work.

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