tere, rein! nägemist, rein …

I JUST RECEIVED word that my old friend Rein passed away. I believe he was born in ’41, so he would have been 78. Quite respectable by Estonian standards, but he had health problems going back many years and could barely walk toward the end. For years he walked with a cane, and I would see him making his way across the street with his hat and cane. Then one day, I noticed Rein was walking, but without a cane. A miracle, I thought. I called out to him, “Tere, Rein!” but no answer came. Then I realized that the man was just a little different from Rein. It looked like Rein, but it was just a bit different. It was a completely different Estonian person. Rein actually read some of my books and taught me about the Greek origins of the words kaheksa and üheksa, which mean “eight” and “nine” in Estonian. In Finnish, they are kahdeksan and yhdeksän. The Greek word for “ten” is δέκα, or “theka.” Kaheksa means “two before ten” (kaks (two) – kahe (two, conjugates) – kahe-theka (two-ten) – kaheksa). Üheksa is “one before ten.” It makes sense. I’m not sure how Rein knew these things. I just saw him in the supermarket two days ago. He was pushing a cart and leaning on it to hold himself up. He really could barely walk. Rein once held some high rank in the Soviet army, but I could never recall what it was. I think he was a captain. I always saluted him though as a general. “My general! Mu kindral!” I said. Rein laughed and said, “You know, people always ask, kuidas käsi käib? How is your hand doing? I say my hand is doing fine, käsi käib hästi, but my legs don’t go so fine. Mu jalad enam ei käi.” Rest in peace, Rein. Puhka rahus.

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