Sunday, 5 July 2015

There were seven of them

crowded around a table intended for four. They wanted to sit together and the owners had accommodated their wishes.
We were there with friends. The place is cheap - we don't "do expensive" - and there are not many seats but it is very pleasant.
The seven women were obviously friends, close friends. They were talking to one another and eating their meal with obvious enjoyment. 
They were ahead of us, having arrived earlier. The place was now full. They reached the simple desserts available - cheesecake or pavlova. I knew then it had to be a special occasion because one of them caught my eye and gave me a smile as I did what you are not supposed to do and passed my empty plate over to the owner - someone we know slightly. Why make his life more difficult when there is little room to move, let alone serve on the right and remove on the left? 
And then, quite suddenly, the women burst into song. I doubt anyone else recognised it but I did. I can't sing it - indeed, I can't sing - but I recognised it. It was also well sung, very well sung indeed.
People stopped eating. They looked startled. It is not at all the usual thing here. People simply don't sing in public like that. Then, as I expected, they moved smoothly into "Happy Birthday".
And then, almost everyone in the place joined in the clapping.
      "What was that - the first one?" the Senior Cat asked me and the friends we were with looked at me expectantly.
      "It's Ukrainian," I told them, "I haven't heard it for so long."
It is a very simple thing that they use on all sorts of occasions. I knew Ukrainians in London who used to sing it. They were waiting to go to America as immigrants. I wondered for a moment how they how their lives had played out. 
Afterwards, as the women wandered around the tiny shop in the other half, the woman who had caught my eye spoke to me,
"You knew our song didn't you?"
I explained how I had heard it before and she nodded. I asked her whose birthday it was and she smiled.
     "It is our birthday. It is the anniversary of the day we came here - the day we were born again. We are fifty now. You understand?"
I did. 

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