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Chez George

Chez George

You were my first friend here in the village, your village.

You sat, on the days when you didn't have to go to dialysis and the weather permitted, invariably on your chair in front of the door,

as firmly anchored as the Liberty Tree in the village square at the church.

Peering out from under your cap, you raised your hand to passersby, on foot, by bicycle, in the car.

After all, you knew everyone in the village and everyone knew you. But you didn't know me, because I had only just moved there.

I sometimes saw your gaze resting on my ancient Skoda that you drove slowly past and then turned left into the neighborhood behind the church. The neighborhood where there was much to say about everything, usually not much good. That's where the suburbanites lived, whom most would have preferred not to see come here.

I also began to raise my hand to you and you waved back, somewhat surprised and somewhat wary.

This went on for a while, but my children wouldn't be my children if one day they didn't pass by your house on their roller skates and tell you bluntly that I would like to have coffee with you.

So it happened and we became friends, real friends.

No doubt some thought that was a little strange, because you could pretty much be my grandfather.

Maybe some even thought I had a hidden agenda.

In any case, we didn't let it get to us.

On your doorstep, each in our chair, we drank countless cups of coffee (and the occasional glass of wine) together, we took turns treating each other.

We made selfies, discussed and solved big and small world problems, gossiped and spied on passersby. For example, we made our displeasure abundantly clear to the parking attendant who hid in the bushes to ticket people as they rushed to the bakery for bread, forgetting their blue card in the rush. "Rather shovel shit than earn azo my living," you said, unmistakably just loud enough, your eyes squeezed shut and corners of your mouth lowered in supreme disapproval.

We stopped laughing when the two of us put the poor man in his place so well that he ran away.

Together we watched, in style, the matches of KAA Gent and the Red Devils, a glass of cava in hand (you always put it well cold for the occasion).

You were one of the few remaining fans of my regular line: "Nikki, t'es Georges he, komde ye af, ze goan begin!".

Regularly I stood on your doorstep with soup, pastries and even once with homemade stew and my fries kettle under my arm.

You told me about your life, your wife and two children who had had to give up, about the Schuttershof, your former café cum banquet hall cum shooting club. "We shot blanks there!"

Anecdotes about everyone in the village rolled across your tongue in colors and scents. You sighed about how the annual fair and the funfair were no longer what they used to be, when the whole village was out in force and it was "full to bursting" every day, all the pubs packed. "Der wier gewirkt gelijk de biesten!", partying and drinking. There was not much time to sleep, but fortunately the coffee was, like the people then, very strong.

Those who worked hard, tired good food. When one was very hungry, one simply took a bucket to the deep fryer for a portion of French fries, frikandellen with mayonnaise and ice cream sauce, and everyone got a fork. Those were the days.

You insisted on eating out with me once, at the Chameleon next door.

You wanted to eat shrimps, with that good sauce with curry and apples. And shampi it was.

Due to a busy family and shaky health, I couldn't always be there when I would have liked or promised to be. I regret that from the bottom of my heart.

Your sorrow was mine when you, the gentle old tree, however much the heart still wanted to stay, still had to say goodbye to your ground. Not so much later, there was also the moment when I found your room and bed empty in the assisted living facility.

I still raise my hand in my mind when I pass by your house.

Still I laugh when in autumn the leaves fall from the Liberty tree and what a mess you found those blossoms in front of your house. I remember so well how you looked forward to the lengthening of the days and the promise of summer when the tree came into leaf.

The twinkle in your eyes, your zest for life, your virtues and your monkish smile were legendary, I'll never forget them.

Had I been able, I would have turned your house into a coffee house, with pastries.

Once again a cozy, lively village heart, a stopping place as it had been for so many years.

It had been called, of course, Chez Georges.

You were my first real friend here Georges.

Thank you for welcoming me into your heart and your village, now also my village.

But enough musing now, because the cava is cold.

"Georges, t'es Nikki he, komde ye af, ze goan begin!"

Nikki Petit

Georges Van Wassenhove


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