Auntie Hope was standing in the doorway when I walked up the path to her flat.
"Did you phone?" she asked me.
"No, I didn't. Was it the front gate perhaps?"
"Are you Olivia?"
"No, I'm Annie."
"No matter. Come inside. I have two teacups sitting out for us, and I've started the water boiling."
Thus began my weekly visit with Auntie Hope, a visit filled with dirty teacups, misplaced tea, forgotten questions repeatedly asked, laughter, confusion, the same two stories of her childhood and profound loneliness.
Why do I drink out of dirty teacups? Why don't I rummage through the cupboards until I find the tea that I know she has? Why don't I correct her on how many children she has or how long she's stayed at the retirement centre or any number of things? Because I want to give her whatever dignity she has left. I want her to feel that for the duration of our visit, she's on top of her game. I want her to feel like there's something she can still do.
"I'm afraid I'm not much of a conversationalist," Auntie Hope said, half apologetically.
"That's okay," I replied. "Tell me a story. Tell me what it was like to grow up in Pretoria and go away to boarding school. Tell me about your mother who owned a laundry business."