Today I met Eira Froyd.
Froyd, not Freud. But only because her husband (Gerald)’s father’s cousin was Sigmund Freud and Gerald’s father didn’t like that, and so he changed his name. But it could have been Freud, and Eira insists that, really, it still is.
The two hours I spent with Eira Froyd were two of the most special I have spent in a long time. And it is hard not to think of them as hours that were given to me as some sort of gift, which means I need to either do something with them, or reciprocate, with a gift of my own.
To begin with I am going to try and write them down, as they were. They were a lot about Eira, a little about Gerald and, the more I think about them, they were about me.
Eira and I ended up sitting opposite each other on a table seat from Euston to Manchester. I was booked on the seat next to her but we decided, at the same time, to take up both sides of the table and hope that nobody else sat down with us. “Put a big bag on the seat”, said Eira. She was half joking.
Anyway, nobody came and sat with Eira and I.
She told me about her family, her sons and daughters and their wives and husbands and their children: “all so bossy, I just do as I am told” “I can’t believe that, Eira.” “ No, I do, I don’t like to cause trouble”. And then I believed her and it made me feel sad.
Eira is welsh for snow.
When she was born, on 11 December (she didn’t tell me the year) it was snowing so badly her father kept saying “this snow, bloody snow”. So, that was Eira. This ‘bloody snow’. One day, many years later, she met a man who told her she was ‘the most beautiful of all the girls’, and he called her Snowdrop.
Eira trained as a nurse and moved to Kenya. She moved to be with her husband, a soldier from the war. They met at one of the nurse’s dances in Wales when he was back from fighting in Africa. He was the most handsome man at the dance, all the girls had loved him, and so had she.
They moved back to Kenya together, and she worked in a kindergarten. They lived in a beautiful house. As well as being handsome, he was a superbly clever man, a veterinary surgeon. She didn’t tell me his name. She did tell me that, when she found out he was dying, she phoned him. He lived in Australia by then, with his new wife. And when she called, he told her he had always loved her. She didn’t tell him that she knew what love was now. She didn’t tell him because he was dying. But I expect he understood.
So, he had left her. He had left her many times over, I think. But Eira doesn’t like to cause trouble and so it was only when he really left her that he left. He left with his girlfriend, who left her family behind too, to fly to the other side of the world with Eira’s handsome soldier.
Without Australia, there would not have been Gerald.
“Gerald was a wonderful man”. Eira showed me his black and white photo and I could see that he was a wonderful man. He looked clever and kind and all the things she said he was. “Not one for small talk, but a great listener”, which sounded perfect to me, because Eira loved small talk. Small talk about coffee shops, and lipstick colours and the best moisturisers for dry skin and how moving from Wilmslow to Didsbury wasn’t easy, it was traumatic and she doesn’t know why, because Didsbury is lovely, aside from being a pain to park in and just not Wilmslow, where she had lived for so long before.
Small big talk.
Gerald was German. His parents were wealthy Berliners when the War broke out and they fled the country, as so many Jews were forced to. They ended up in Nairobi, living in a mud hut. Gerald was twelve and had left with just his teddy bear under his arm. She told me the story of how they left and why and then she sat in silence and looked at me and I looked at her and we just let it all settle there between us for a minute.
We talked a lot about Gerald. “One day you will meet a man like him”, Eira told me, “keep your heart open”. I will be lucky.
The problem with Eira, according to Eira, is that she feels too much. “I worry too much what other people think’, she said. And I knew exactly what she meant. Sometimes feeling double of everything in this world is just too much for anyone.
I tried to tell Eira about my life too, she wanted to know about my family and what I did and why I lived where I lived and did I know that, if I was to ever marry, I was to make sure my name was on the deeds of the house. I told her I knew.
I told her it didn’t matter if people saw her using her walking support. That she should use it outside of the corridor in her apartment block, that it wasn’t a weakness, that it showed her taking control of the pain she felt in her back. That, with it, she would walk taller, and that was more important. And her eyes lit up and I think we understood each other then, too.
Eira told me that she loved good people. That I was a good person, and she pushed her dusky pink (to match her scarf and nails) notebook toward me to write down my telephone number. “When you come to visit me I will prove to you I am related to Sigmund Freud”, and I couldn’t resist that, so I wrote down my number and promised to see her again.
“I won’t let you go”, she said, as the train pulled into her stop and she reached over the table to grab my hand. And I didn’t disagree, I don’t like to cause trouble.