Just under two weeks ago, I collected my team for a job. As she got into the car, C asked –
Have you heard about Michael?
Let me explain: there are several men in the village whose names are Michael. There are several who are “Mike” and whose names have additional monikers. Like “Two Dog Mike” because – you guessed it – he has two dogs. There were two Michaels. One, always identified by both first and last names.
Michael – just Michael – with his childhood friend, Billy – was one of the first people we met when we came to the village. Always reserved, always polite – sometimes painfully so. Always in a freshly pressed shirt. Always, like James Dean, with the collar turned up.
When he dispensed a rare hug – and in nine years, I only had one – I think he was as surprised as I.
Often, on a Saturday morning, as we headed to our market duties, he’d be walking into Tebaldi’s, his restaurant. He’d always wave cheerfully. A little before Christmas, that walk was a little less firm and the wave a little less cheerful. The collar was as stiff as ever. The Husband expressed concern.
For various reasons, we’ve not had occasion to dine out as often as we used to. We do, however, have some indelible memories of Tebaldi’s and Micheal. When we had not long moved to the village and travelling for my day job, the evening I returned from a trip, my kitchen didn’t see me. Tebaldi’s often did. One of those was particularly balmy and we asked to sit on the veranda looking on to the rose garden.
We’d not booked but Michael strutted us to our perfect spot: he knew that we prefer to be somewhat set apart from the crowd. As he got to the table, he swooped, scooped up the reserved sign and said:
Welcome! There you are…
We looked at him quizzically as he deposited it on another table.
Oh, they’re visitors. You’re local.
Leaning against the wall next to the table was a rather rustic, but short ladder. We didn’t pay much attention but as the late summer sun set, the resident hen hopped and perched and hopped her way across the veranda (and the chairs and tables). Her final perch: the ladder just above The Husband’s right ear, and where she roosted, her head firmly tucked under her wing.
Another, equally memorable evening was in the dead of winter. Somehow, we were the last guests and Michael presented us with a complimentary post dinner port. What precipitated the gift, I don’t know. Perhaps a gentle hint that we were over staying our welcome? It didn’t feel like it. Unusually, the music for that evening was not opera. He loved opera – reflected in the restaurant’s name. Somehow, the two of us – with Billy and, most unusually, Michael – ended the evening propping up the bar and having a rather loud sing-along. One of The Husband’s fondest memories of Michael.
From time to time, Michael would appear at the market looking for some or other item for the kitchen – in the hopes that he could avoid a trip to Robertson. Occasionally, I was able to oblige.
My last memory of Michael – a couple of weeks before Christmas – was his sitting and enjoying a pre-service glass of wine. I remember asking how he was, and after the walking stick.
The legs haven’t been working so well, but I am much better, thank you.
He did look better than when The Husband had commented a couple of weeks earlier. Natter led to a more serious question and conversation about my range of products at the market.
He asked me to drop samples of certain items. I did. I thought it odd that it was Billy who sent a message of thanks.
Three days before New Year, the President spoke, and the country went back into a lockdown. Other than the market, we don’t get out. We did, though, miss Michael and his wave.
It was that other “C” that took Michael. Mercifully, it was quick, sparing him the indignity of a too long illness.
Cruelly, that other “C” robs us – and many who knew and cared for him – of the opportunity to pay our respects to the man we shall always remember.
Michael, we hope that you are resting peacefully with your maker. We send our condolences, love and strength to Billy, your family, the Tebaldi’s and Temenos team and to all who love and care for you.
Good bye, Michael. Godspeed.
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
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