It is a decade since I first encountered the countrywoman.
Calling at a house on a warm summer’s day, the countrywoman, dressed as if it were winter sat at the head of the kitchen table. The house was not hers, but no-one commented on her presence
I sat and talked with the family whose home the house was. Tea was made and biscuits were shared.
The countrywoman sat looking into the middle distance, making no comment. After half an hour or so, she stood up and left, without a word of comment or farewell.
Each day, she arrived at the house before six and sat in the kitchen. The family shared breakfast with her and, if they were eating their main meal at midday, they set a place for her. On that day she had decided that she would not remain for the meal.
Leaving the house, the heat of the day had about it a stifling humid, heaviness. It was one of those rare days when wearing the grey and black expected of clergy seemed unwise.
Turning onto a narrow side road, not much wider than the car, the countrywoman was ambling along ahead. She stepped onto the left hand verge to allow the car to pass.
It seemed appropriate to offer to drive her, wherever she was going on such a day. “Would you like a lift?”
“I would please. God bless you. It’s a warm day.” She got in, ignoring the suggestion that the seat belt might be fastened.
“Where am I driving you?”
“To my house, I live down here. It’s the second house.”
We passed a few houses. “Is your house here?”
“It’s the second house after the bend.”
We drew up at a small, neat bungalow set back from the road. “God bless you for your kindness.” She got out of the car and walked slowly in through her gate.
Looking in the mirror, it was hard to imagine what might she might be thinking. What would she do for the rest of the day? Did she just sit at the table of her own house and stare ahead into nothingness?
Were it not for a family of outsiders who allowed her to walk into their kitchen early every morning and to share their table with them, what might her life have been like? Who would she have seen? Who would have talked to her?
On winter days, when she walked that same road, did other people pick her up and wonder what thoughts might be passing through the mind of the woman in her big coat and old shoes?