I didn’t instantly see her, I heard her first. Or rather, not her, but the in need of a drop of oil pulley from her water well. “Ahhh…” she said when she spotted me and I thought I had met my first ever pixie.
“Ahhhh….” she repeated, put her water bucket down and staggered over to me. A stream of words came out of her mouth, accompanied with nods and the now familiar touching all villagers did, (patting arms and shoulders mainly), but the more she invaded my personal space, the more aware I became of a stench. And her teeth. I caught a glimpse first. Normally my eyes first of all do a quick recce of the face, human nature, and will end meeting the other person’s eyes, but I found my eyes resting on her teeth. They were stained purple at the gums.
I had just met the village idiot.
Tonta was harmless, the other villagers reassured me, but, they added, she drinks too much.
Tonta was a lying conniving thief, the village eldest warned me, holding up an arthritic finger for effect. “Tonta nicks everything. Lock up your sheds! She’s a thieving drunk!” She might even have spat on the ground for effect after saying that, I don’t remember.
The village eldest hated Tonta that much, that when she would spot her using the path opposite her house she would explode into the hissiest of fits and her screeching rants could be heard all over the village. Tonta kept out of her way.
Tonta, I thought, was thoroughly annoying. This had nothing to do with the fact she was the village idiot or a drunk. In my mind there are only two kinds of people, the ones I get on with, and the ones I don’t get on with. I tried to avoid her as much as possible.
I got to know Tonta over the years and learnt snippets of her history. Now in her 80’s she wasn’t officially from the village,but adopted. She’d even gone with the lady who adopted her to work in Germany for a while, she told me one day when she was less drunk and more coherent. Although The villagers found her an embarrassment, everyone made sure the black sheep of the village was looked after. If she hadn’t been spotted for half a day someone would knock on her door to make sure she was ok. When she had a bout of sciatica a few years before I moved here, the village women took turns to cook for her and wash her. She might have been the village idiot, but she belonged to the village. Everyone tried to convince her to stop drinking, but if she did it was only temporarily, until she was found again at the side of the road, after walking back from the nearest village, a bottle of two in a plastic bag beside her.
One day people found Tonta slumped in a shop of a nearby village but this time she wasn’t drunk. She was ill and taken to hospital. It never became clear what the matter was exactly. She moved to the old people’s home after that, in the bigger village around 4 kilometres from here.
The transformation she underwent astonished everyone. Villagers who had seen her commented how clean and tidy she looked, and how she had finally managed to give up alcohol. She seemed happy, certainly more coherent, and I found her less annoying when I bumped into her in the bigger village or when she came back on occasion to visit her old house, opening doors and windows to let some fresh air in. I could have gone so far saying I missed her. I joked to Villager T that now there was vacancy for village idiot, I considered applying for it and perhaps he could take on the role of village drunk.
And then her village visits stopped.
A few months ago, during a routine visit at the doctors I saw her in the waiting room. She was sitting alone on a row of chairs. I walked up to her, greeted her and asked her if she was ok. There was no “ahhh” in response. She just looked at me solemnly. “No,” She replied. Shook her head. There was no crazy pixieness left in her eyes like there was before. “No. I’m not ok, I have a bit of a depression.” she sighed.
It was my turn to pat her on the shoulder and I told her how awful that was to hear, when I noticed a white uniform standing next to me. A nurse from the old people’s home. Tonta wasn’t allowed out alone anymore. I explained to the nurse that I knew Tonta, but I didn’t get a smile from her. I got a yeah whatever, I haven’t got time for this fake smile in return. She ordered Tonta to get up and, as if she was dealing with a wayward child, led her by the arm to the other end of the waiting room and more or less forced her to sit down next to the other waiting patients. There still was a space left beside her so I sat down too, the nurse opposite her, leaning against the wall, a prison guard. When the person on her right tried to chat to Tonta and she didn’t instantly respond, the nurse raised her voice at her, agitated “Hey! Here! Someone trying to talk to you!” she more or less slapped her arm.
I was appalled. I felt slightly sick.
When Tonta had finished her short conversation she looking down at the floor.
I wanted to tell her that I wished there was a way I could take her back to the village with me, when Tonta spotted my ripped jeans. They were too long and had a clear rip just at the seam from where I’d been stepping on it. “Your trousers,” Tonta commented concerned. “Your trousers are ripped.” Tonta always used to notice things like that. I laughed. “Yes, I know!”
The nurse had heard what she’d said. “That is not ripped, That is fashion! But you don’t know anything about that.” she sneered at her. Tonta responded by returning her gaze to the floor.
I was lost for words for a split second. What an idiot.
Then I turned to the Nazi nurse and laughed. At her. “Fashion? What? Oh no, you are wrong. These trousers are ripped actually.” I spoke up so the other patients could hear it too. She looked at me bemused. “I simply forgot to fix them. Tonta is right. Silly me. I don’t know anything about fashion either.” I turned to Tonta, smiling at her. “People who adhere to fashion. Ha.I think they are idiots.”
And I glared briefly at the nurse.
Read my eyes.
You’re the idiot. Not Tonta.