Ding dong. Not expecting visitors, I turned off the bubbling potato soup and opened the door just a crack. It was the census enumerator handing out forms. It doesn’t feel like five years since the last one. Or is it six? Was it delayed because of the pandemic?
I remember the last one so clearly. Sean filled it out that night for the four of us. He always handled the paperwork: bills, bank stuff, tax returns; but I always did the birthday cards. Looking back, it must have been early on in the Alzheimer’s. He struggled with the form.
‘How do you commute to work? This is crazy stuff, sure I am retired…’
He threw it on the floor and stormed off to bed, I filled it out myself when I was sure he was asleep.
It got worse after that. He would go out for the milk and come home without it; would shout at the radio because he had ‘lost’ RTE1; and the night the neighbours found him in his pyjamas, lost and crying in the middle of the road, I was mortified.
His anniversary is coming up. He was part of ‘the first wave’. I went to visit him in St. Jude’s but they wouldn’t let me in. Tried video-calling but by that stage he was lost in a bundle of wires and cables and bleeping machines. Even the bleeping machines couldn’t save him at the end.
The girls are above in Cork now: good jobs thank God. They come down the odd time, just for the weekend mind. The housework is too much for me now if the truth be told. Too many empty rooms. I keep the doors closed to stop the dust when it’s just me here.
The doorbell rings again, it’s like Piccadilly Circus here today. First the census man, now a woman, Anna I think is her name, swishes past me into the kitchen. We have met a few times around the place. She is foreign, maybe Eastern European, it seems rude to ask these days without seeming nosey.
‘This stuff in Ukraine, it’s terrible…’
I make a cup of tea as she pours out her life story. Met an Irish fella, an engineer, working in Ukraine. Moved here with him two years ago, got a job as a carer in St. Jude’s, knew Sean well… It turned out her sister is part of the millions who have left Ukraine, with three small children in tow. Anna is weeping by now, I hand her a tissue. The sister, Tatiana, is in Poland now and Anna is trying to persuade her housemates that they should take them, but the house is already full to the brim; four of them renting that small house. She gets out her phone and starts showing me photos of her sister’s family, the youngest no more than a year.
Out of the blue, and much out of character, I blurt out.
‘They will come here to this house, I have tons of space. There are empty bedrooms galore up above. It will be a bit of company for me’.
‘What? Are you sure? I didn’t mean… No, really’
‘You’ll have to do the paperwork but that’s it, it’s settled’.
And so it came to pass, that when Census night arrived, I had five names to fill in: my own, Tatiana, Borys, Viktor and little Nadya. I spilled a little bit of borscht on the form, it’s bright purple, but I am sure no-one will notice.