Monday, June 2

2 Good-Byes

Grandmother, Mother, Daughter

IT WAS NO more than me being in the courtyard at the exact moment it all took place, this small incident, that I was to notice it and remark upon it in my mind. Helplessly I was to think about it for some hours afterward because, for a reason that may or may not become clear to you, it had a great impact upon me. A June Saturday evening and the musk of blossom in the air as blossom that was fallen from a species of tree growing within the courtyard, (dropping its flowers and there the petals rotted in a sugary sediment for everyone to walk and sneeze over).
I had a white plastic bag in my hand. With my head down, I came out of the shop and was walking across the courtyard. It was an hour when the sun had dropped below the height of the building so that all was in shade, slowly cooling down. I walked with my white plastic bag.
Ahead of me, taking their time, were three women.
In three ages, the women made their way in front of me, intersecting my path. I saw at only a glance they were grandmother, mother and daughter – if I were to take the side of the youngest. The youngest was but a toddler. She was learning to use her feet and her legs on some of the most unlevel cobblestones in East London. Lazily the adults kept behind her, watching in mutual silence, as her chubby legs maneuvered clumsily.
Three generations, I thought. I saw them as three towers, of different age, climbing up, gnarled in part by age and witness to separate views.
The two older women – the mother and grandmother – said not a word to each other. Instead they focused, through awkwardness, on the little girl. Both admired the girl in different ways, yet neither said a word. Unaware, the little girl carried on, hopping from stone to stone and, through the lightness of her gait, quite happy at her progress.
It was all the day had left. I was approaching them fast now, however they did not care an ounce for me; so it was I passed them, as if I were invisible.
The mother and grandmother stopped in their tracks. The daughter went over to the verge where the flowers grew, and leant down.
‘Well, thank you for a lovely day,’ said the grandmother.
I hurried off. I quickened. I could not tell you why but I wished to leave the scene as soon as I could, for it was all too much; as I imagined their day all covered in awkward silences, united by an infant who was as blood flowing through rosy cheeks.
At the door to my block of flats, I turned and regarded the three:
The mother was pulling away from the grandmother’s embrace as limply their arms detached. The mother spun a quarter on her heels and called—‘Ophelia, come say good-bye to your grandmother.’



Going-Away Party

A MODEST GOING-AWAY party was being held in the garden of a father. He had practically locked himself in the kitchen, preparing a variety of curry dishes, while his family – brothers and sisters, nephews – stood outside in the sun and spoke to his daughter.
The going-away party was in honour of his daughter and she expertly entertained the guests, talking politely and enthusiastically, offering drinks. He was heartbroken that she was leaving, so he busied himself out of sight. She was leaving on Tuesday to go to the other side of the world. She would be going for a year, but if things went well then she said she might stay longer. It was something for her to disappear out there like that. It was too much for him; he put on a pan of rice. He tried not to think about it. When he took guests, he said hello curtly and directed everyone away from him, into the garden.
He had only recently moved in, so that the garden was half dug-up. There were very tall trees and the sun rushed through them as golden water. The pond sat stagnant and motionless duckweed turned shiny green in the sun.
The girl’s Nan arrived and was seated in a wooden chair at the door to the house, before the steps into the garden. She was eighty-nine and blind. She could barely walk. She sat down in the wooden chair and caught her breath. Her grey eyes stared without seeing. Her children and grandchildren came to greet her.
Much of the afternoon passed.
Sometimes the sun greyed behind a cloud and the nip in the air chilled everyone, but then the sun would return and faces were lifted. They sat around drinking beers and cocktails and eating peanuts.
After the food was brought out – platefuls of rice and curried vegetables – moods stilled.
The girl who was going away took a seat next to her grandmother. Because her grandmother could not see her, the girl rested her arm upon her grandmother’s very frail shoulder and spoke close to her ear. The girl was emotional but only expressed it when she was exceedingly drunk, when she would return home to her father, wake him up, clutch his leg and declare her love for him, endlessly, until he told her to go to bed. Very soon, the girl began to sob. She sobbed at her Nan’s side, however she continued to talk so that her words came out jagged and stuttering.
Of course there were people around, family, yet none of them disturbed her.
The girl knew in her own mind – with one hand caressing her Nan’s fragile shoulder – that she would not likely see her again. Very often the Nan had asked to die, wished she had the courage to do it to herself, but she was not long for the world. The Nan stared colourless eyes in the direction of her granddaughter’s voice. It was to be so then that she should go away, to the other side of the world, and never see her Nan again. Acknowledging this, she stayed by her side and sobbed. All the other guests left them to it and nobody overheard the words she said into her Nan’s ear.

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