Dear Maria, this one is for you.

Women? No.

A woman.  A special one, a lovely one. One named Maria.

I met Maria at the corner of a store, many years ago. I was a 21 years old student who just had passed her finals to get her bachelor degree. I was completely free for the summer holidays and on this very hot and shiny day, I had planned to meet a friend (who was 26 at the time) near a small jewelry shop. Little did I know prior arriving at the meeting point that my friend wouldn’t be alone. She had brought Maria with her and I was so surprised to see this old lady that I didn’t even ask any question. I said “Hi! Nice to meet you”, without knowing what to add. She politely smiled and responded the same. Maria was there to see the jewelry shop’s owner (which we all knew) and passed to door, as my friend and I were doing the same.

The tiny place was crowded and noises were coming from everywhere. I quickly started to feel lost in the middle of this melting pot where friends and customers were mixing together. I ended up standing near Maria and she began to ask me many questions. Who was I? What was I studying? She was kindly making an effort to develop a warm contact between us, and she was doing it very naturally. She explained to me that she was a painter and a reflexologist and that she loved meeting new people.

Despite her age, Maria was nothing like a grandma. She had very long red hair, a strong presence and colorful clothes. She was behaving like a sweet child, giggling, with some wrinkles. Her body was saying her true age when her mind was remaining as she used to be during her teenagers years, with a bit more wisdom I guessed.

After half an hours, we had to split and before leaving, she gave me a phone number and said “please, come at home and we’ll have a cup of tea”. At this point, the 21 years old version of me was uncomfortable. Would she become a friend? Could I be friend with 70-something years old lady? I gently accepted her offer and she asked me to come visit her 2 days later. I couldn’t refuse, I was free like a bird and the truth is, I didn’t want to. It felt strange but I was loving our exchange and I was eager to know more about her.

A couple a days later, I was in front of her building in the city center and she opened the door, asking me to go to the 5th floor. As I was climbing the few last steps, she was there, waiting peacefully for me with a smile full of candor, the kind of smile we usually see on the painting of the Virgin Mary.

I calmly got into her apartment which she was sharing with her partner. She offered me to sit on a perfectly white couch in a white room and went to the kitchen to prepare us some tea. The only thing I could stare at were her paintings, looking like mandalas with gems on each of them. Her flat was decorated with spiritual items, candles and beautiful crystals. This place felt like a cloud lost in time.

She came back and gave me a cup with some munchies and saw how I was looking at her artwork. She then began to tell me her life story as she wanted me to know what the paintings were representing.

She was born in Spain and moved to Paris as a young adult. She was obsessed with arts, any kind of arts and started painting. She was working in a company doing administrative work (I believed that painting is not the easiest way to make a living) and created many things on the side. She ended up moving to my city, after she had divorced her first husband and found someone else, letting her daughter there and her old job. She was proud of her partner, who was creating his business, and I could see in her eyes, as she was speaking about him, that she was still in love. She seemed to be perfectly happy in this life and her sky was at the time, completely clear.

Even if Maria could have asked for retirement, she needed to work and contribute. This is why she started her small business in reflexology, and by looking at the shape of her hands, I could see the strength in her fingers. She did not have many clients but she loved helping the one who were coming to her. She was gifted and she was not counting the time of her sessions with clients. She just wanted to have a place in this big world.

After our afternoon, I left her apartment, pleased that I had the chance to meet her. I would never have thought that I would get along with this lady, but life was teaching me I could. We did not exchange any text or phone call for weeks after this, but she certainly had a special place in my heart.

One month had passed and I received a call from her. She asked me to come to see her as she didn’t want to talk on the phone. It seemed serious. When I arrived, her partner was leaving and I could see she had been crying. After the door slammed, she explained that her partner was leaving her and gave her one month to get out of the apartment. “How can he do that? What happened?” I answered. She had no idea. They had been a couple for more than a decade.

He was the owner of everything. Her low income in reflexology was not enough to pay for an independent life and she was thinking that he had met another woman. One month was clearly not enough but she said she had friends and she knew where she would go. I was relieved and sad at the same time.

Unfortunate, a month again after that, she called me back. She had realized that he had planned this for months and that he was not even giving her any furniture. She had gathered all of her belongings in a box she was renting and she was sleeping at a friend’s house. She said to me that she could stay as long as she needed at this place but she felt uncomfortable to be in the middle of this family. She had found an apartment that someone she knew accepted to rent her and she needed someone to drive her to some furniture store to get a bed, a mattress, a fridge and some appliances. This is where we headed as soon as possible. This is how I ended up in a car, listening to Maria who was trying to figure things out, when I barely knew her.

I helped her move and offered my time but I knew that if she didn’t have enough money to be independent, this situation could not last very long.

After this episode, I did not get too much news from her. I believe she was struggling and that things did not turn into a happy end. I reached her not so long ago and learnt she was living near Paris but that she would be moving again anytime soon.

Maria was a dreamer and a believer. She belonged to the kinds and she wanted to make good. Money was not a priority and she had the idea that nothing wrong could happen to her, especially not from her loved ones. Maria belongs to those women who have to learn autonomy in the hard way, despite her beautiful heart and her welcoming soul. She was pushed out in the glance of an eye, she was left on the side without having enough time to figure out a new life.

She makes me think about all of those woman who sacrifice their financial autonomy to contribute to their home with their time. Those women who cannot survive once they are left out. Not all of them are gold diggers, many are just housewives or struggling to find well paid jobs. Those ones who need to stay with a partner to make sure that food will be in the fridge. Not all of them are lazy leeches. Some are devoted mothers, some other are dreamers. But all of them are facing the same risks.

Maria is one of the most beautiful soul I have ever met in my life and I wish the best for her. I don’t know how she does, where she is exactly but she promised that we would see each other when she comes back to where I live.

Maria was a sunlight. A sunlight that crossed my path in a time where I was carefree. Today, she gives me the strength to make sure I’m independent. I want to make choices that will give me financial peace of mind, choices where I don’t plan my life relying on others.

The amount of times I saw Maria can be counted on my hands. I don’t know if she was a friend or just someone who went by in my life, but those times were enough for me to have a precious impact on me.

Dear readers, take care.

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