By Margaret Drummond
They spoke his language but he didn’t always understand the words. These newcomers were young, and brash. They drove flashy cars and slammed the doors noisily at night. Nevertheless he remembered the flutter of excitement when he had seen the sleek, black Mercedes parked by the house.
A car from home. He still called it home although he had spent nearly 70 years here in London. In the old country there had hardly ever been any cars, not then.
Fleetingly he imagined how he would burst into the kitchen and tell Ona the news. ‘All the way from Marijampole! Imagine!’ But he had lost Ona five years ago. Now in the evenings he sat alone in the living room, surrounded by the myriad of nick-knacks she had collected.
An amber heart embedded with tiny, shimmering seeds from Palanga, a carving of the castle in Vilnius that his cousin had sent years ago. Even though those thieving Soviet post officials had prised off the tiny amber flag on its flimsy spike of a flagpole, Ona had insisted on giving the picture pride of place over the fireplace.
‘To remind us,’ she said.
After Independence they had talked about going home, but everything had happened at the wrong time. It was too late for them, and in the beginning they had been fearful for the future.
‘You can’t trust them,’ Ona used to say. ‘And we have been here so long.’
He would nod, inwardly weeping at how he had left the little hut in the middle of the forest midst a swirl of shrill recriminations and protestations- reprimands which had haunted him as he had fled westwards. Mama had never known Ona.
Ona, with her flaxen curls like rippled rye and her cornflower eyes had been the first beautiful thing he had seen when he arrived in the weed-strewn ruins of London all those years ago. And she had spoken his language.
He tried so hard with the new neighbours. The young woman smiled tightly when she saw him but ducked her head down low. She was as wary of him, as he was of her…and the men…. He greeted them in their language and initially they had been surprised to hear him speak.
‘I came after the war,’ he said. ‘I fled from the Russians.’
One of them showed him the car, detailing its array of gadgets. The old man understood very little. ‘And what do you do?’ he asked the younger man, just to keep the conversation going. Again he struggled to understand the words. The man saw his confusion. ‘I work with computers,’ he said finally, turning to his friends with a smile
At night he could hear them. Sometimes they sang, as Baltic people do. Now and then he recognised the wisp of a song from a wedding or a midsummer walk in the forest. But they never asked him in, so he sat in his flat, still and alone, like a fly caught in a teardrop of amber.
Margaret Drummond grew up in a Dutch/Lithuanian family and now lives in London. She studied modern languages at university, taught for many years and now translates.