Every evening from 6.00pm to 8.00pm she was there. Every evening for six months. Somebody said she had an intense life, that she had studied a lot and achieved success, but nobody really knew her story.
Somebody considered her crazy, some other said she was wise, for some she was just smart, other would define her as compassionate.
Someone said she had lost her mind during a trip, for someone else she was like that due to an ecstatic experience. Others said that she was subjected to some kind of violence, who knows when and where, that she sublimated that way.
Nobody knew where she would be the other six months of the year, but everyone made her return, perfectly on time on April 6th at 6.00 pm at The Castaway Café, a point of reference for the turn of the season like the first blooms or the return of the swallows. Many wondered, if in another place somewhere in the world people waited her return, punctual on October 5th, when she would no longer sit at her table in the corner of the Café. Maybe she was traveling like a nomad, maybe she did not have a permanent place to stay like that. Maybe the Café represented her return home. Someone had tried to ask.
She always answered with a laugh. She never revealed anything about herself, never talked about herself.
The few information everybody knew was that she slept in a boarding house and that she carried only a small suitcase with few clothes and personal care items. The owners of the house kept that room for her, without her needing to call for or book it. On April 6th they had the room ready for 12.00 and lunch for 1.00pm. No one came to bother her at the pension as well as no one dared to occupy her table at the Café. A sort of code of respect had been created, which nobody dared to violate.
In the evening she dined at the Café thanks to the offers of those who came to sit with her. Most of them were intellectuals, philosophers or young people seeking Truth. She always laughed at the curious and the gossipers. To the skeptics who asked her where she came from and what studies or training she had, she reserved her usual open smile, and to those who insisted she caressed the face in a maternal gesture of compassion, only to laugh again immediately after.
Everyone soon learnt about the ritual at the Café. A first glass of white wine, another glass, a bowl of soup, water, a bitter. The guys usually shared the order, so that they could have about half an hour each to talk with Ma and listen to the few words with which she solved riddles and gave relief to the torments of her interlocutors. That’s how everybody called her: Ma. She spoke through metaphors, aphorisms, more often poems.
It looked like poetry flowed naturally from her and that there were rhymes and sestet for every existential question. As if she was hiding inside her a book of life written in a time out of time.
She listened, she tasted her wine and she smiled kindly. When the supplicant had finished, she would put down her glass, look up, glance around, then lower her eyelids and with a voice that touched the notes of the depth of the soul, she would praise her verses. A moment of silence, then she opened her eyes, looked around and burst into laughter, in delight. She would lift then her glass inviting the bystanders to make a toast with her. Meanwhile, the one who had asked the question remained with the dazed expression of someone who realise he hadn’t understood anything.
Ma’s answers were never direct, but they were substantial.
What she said normally caused two kinds of effects: there were those who felt stupid for giving so much weight to something that suddenly seemed simple and almost trivial, those who were disconcerted by understanding that their object of thought was much vaster and it had to be considered in the light of aspects they had never pondered on before.
At 8 o’clock, Ma took the last sip, got up, she passed a light caress on the cheeks of the youngest and the most stubborn, then she went away. The new ones who dared to ask another question, were immediately silenced by the regulars.
That evening at 7:58 pm, Ma was lifting her glass to say goodbye, when a tall, dark-haired young man pushed his way among others and stood firmly in front of her. He slammed his hand on the table and he spoke so as everyone could hear him well.
«It’s time to knock it off».
Ma put her glass back down and listened, interested. «Everyone talks about you, respect you, you look like the wise one, but you’re just a drunk nomad, that’s who you are». The guys around felt indignant for her, but no sign of offence appeared on her face. «I see you from afar, you are here every night and at the end what do you do? Drink and laugh, drink and laugh and just say two words that should be wise! What kind of wisdom? Nobody does even know where you’re from and who you really are».
Someone protested in whispers, they had to stop that bully, but since the woman said nothing, nobody said anything.
The young man, more and more sure of himself, continued «I can not even tell you’re old, cos you maybe are even not that aged. You look wise because you look old and you look old because you drink too much! And I think you laugh not to cry, you laugh, you laugh too much and you all around look at her laughing, haha, so now look at me as I laugh too, hahaha ». The young man began to laugh in a noisy and disordered manner, with his eyes to the sky and his mouth open, moving his head right and left.
With a sudden gesture, which most of the bystanders did not even see, Ma took her glass, full with bitter, and poured it all together into the man’s wide open mouth. The latter, who was still trying to make his laughter heard by the entire Café, lowered his head and, wide-eyed, spat the liquor on the table and began to cough. When he finally felt safe, he looked at Ma straight into her eyes. She, placid, told him:
«When you speak, when you laugh, always keep your mindfulness». In that precise moment the young man understood. He lowered his head with humility.
Ma got up calmly, she smiled at everyone and left the Café. Just a few minutes later than usual, she set off for her pension in the afterglow. No one dared ever follow her.