The man stood staring at me.
Wearing an old brown anorak with the hood pulled up, his pallor was paler than that of some corpses I have seen. Curly white hair was visible beneath his hood, his beard had a similar whiteness. Perhaps it created the pallid hue of the man who screwed up his eyes and stared intently.
He took a step closer.
‘It’s no good asking me for money,’ I thought, ‘I have had no cash since before Easter.’
To be honest, he looked more like someone who would tell me that he was an alien, or that he was the king of France, or that he was ten thousand years old.
Standing trying to avoid catching his eye lest it lead to the sort of conversation in which he told me that he had an atomic bomb in a carrier bag, I noticed he was carrying a swede in his right hand.
Well, I would call it a swede. It was such a vegetable that was my first introduction to Hiberno-English. Standing in a canteen, I asked the woman behind the counter for ‘swede’. She had looked at me blankly, when I pointed she said, ‘that’s turnip, why did you call it swede?’
It was not clear why he was carrying a swede. He had no other shopping.
His stare continued.
Then I realised that he was not staring at me. He was trying to read the electronic display above my head that gave bus numbers, destinations and when the next service would leave. Clearly he should have been wearing glasses for he was having to squint to read the information.
I relaxed. There would be no nuclear devices, nor conversations about messages brought by Martians.
The relaxed moment did not last.
A woman standing a few yards away was reading a book with a foreign title. The subtitle was The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. It seemed as meaningful a title as At Swim-Two-Birds by Brian O’Nolan (also known as Flann O’Brien, Myles na Gopaleen, Brother Barnabas, or George Knowall). Except you knew that O’Nolan was writing satire, mocking affectation, unmasking pretentiousness. It seemed unlikely that Swedish Death Cleaning was particularly humorous.
A Google search produced an explanation of the book:
Döstädning, or the art of death cleaning, is a Swedish phenomenon by which the elderly and their families set their affairs in order. Whether it’s sorting the family heirlooms from the junk, downsizing to a smaller place, or setting up a system to help you stop misplacing your keys, death cleaning gives us the chance to make the later years of our lives as comfortable and stress-free as possible. Whatever your age, Swedish death cleaning can be used to help you de-clutter your life, and take stock of what’s important. Margareta Magnusson has death cleaned for herself and for many others. Radical and joyous, her guide is an invigorating, touching and surprising process that can help you or someone you love immeasurably, and offers the chance to celebrate and reflect on all the tiny joys that make up a long life along the way.
To be honest, I think I would rather be a myopic old man standing at a bus stop with a large root vegetable and living in the present moment.