season began with a greying sky. Somebody called it “Winter” (another
weird, spreading Americanism like the ‘allrightie’). Another said
“Amazingly” that she was “Spring cleaning”. Anything’s possible
in the tropics. That this is a “Season” nobody questions.
I write this, rounded raindrops skid across an electricity wire. I keep
wishing one would make it right to the end but they always fall down on
the grass and disappear. Terra-cotta galvanised roofs glisten, the deep
green of the hills are misted over. Smells of damp earth and jasmine and
rotting fruit filter up.
this season an extraordinary number of grandmothers are dying. “It’s
our age,” said one whose 72 year-old grandmother lay in a coma, right
after my own grandmother battling like a tigress against her own body
collapsed with a failing heart.
can you be so calm,” I raged.
difference between us is that I accept when I can do nothing about it and
you fight it till the end,” he replied.
called up another friend to condole on her grandmother and, while speaking
to her, was told that yet another, somebody else’s, had died. “It’s
our age.” This granddaughter told me that she was so caught up in her
own grief after her grandmother’s death that she completely forgot that
her own mother had lost her mother. So that’s another generation losing
events appear to be chaotic and random invariably a pattern reveals
itself. Call it whatever you like. But it must be some force higher than
us animals. In the new year a letter from a friend who writes:
“Do you realise that it’s been 16 years since the day we first
met at this pretentious gallery opening and ran half an hour late to a
lecture half drunk on cheap red wine?” Sixteen years since I was 17.
That must make me 33. Is that quarter of my life over ? Or is that half -
well nearly half. And I still feel like the 17-year-old girl, straining to
belong, rumpled, laden with books, feeling hideous and insecure at times,
triumphant at others, peering here and there straining to hear
conversations, to root out mysteries, flying in all directions at once
like a child let loose at a party which is about to end. And that
17-year-old was not that much different from the five-year-old. The core
has remained the same. I simply have more photographs to prove that time
has marched on. But where did it go? I wasn’t looking when it happened.
And if that went so fast what about the rest?
that point I froze into inaction. If time is going so fast I can not allow
myself to miss any moment of being alive. The boredom of watching the
clock’s hand tick slowly better than being caught unawares at 82 and
like my grandmother, looking in surprise at her once flawless beautiful
face and body and exclaiming. “Look at these wrinkles. When did that
happen, darling?!” And then: “I’m tired of my body. It won’t do
she turns on us like a wounded tigress saying as we face her impatient
wanting to get away. “It’s a long and lingering death. I’m tired, I
want to go. I am burdened by this body I don’t want it anymore.” Then,
eagerly, did you find a new doctor to fix my hearing? (The nerves are dead
but she didn’t want to hear that.) In her resonance there is all the
petulance of the spoilt 18-year-old girl she once was - her Papa’s
darling who rode and played tennis and was a better shot than any man
it has taken me some time to understand this. Months of being impatient.
Running out on the smallest errands so I won’t have to face the chore
her deteriorating body has become to herself and those who take care of
her. Sometimes thinking angrily while mopping up spilt soup or picking up
the pieces of a broken glass. “She does this deliberately to irritate
me. I know it.” Or guiltily sneaking a forbidden thought to assuage the
burden. “It might be better if she goes now. She’s had enough, so have
we.” But everything comes full-circle even in chaos.
began when I overheard a visiting Samaritan from a religious organisation
trying to “cheer up” my grandmother. “I know you are a good person.
Now dear, let’s pray.” And my grandmother replying, her voice rising.
“And how do you know I’m good? What do you know about me or my life.
What rot you people talk.” I laughed then and realise only now what she
was saying. “Don’t label me as an old lady. I am more than dregs. I
feel too alive to be shoved into the realm of the un-dead.” She knows
she is no atrophying body which should be nourished and cleaned and then
disregarded. On her way out the Samaritan still smarting from the
back-chat said. “You have to bear with the elderly.”
when I realised what a horrible querulous phrase that is. Sounds like a
forbidden ‘cult’ in which everybody has their identity wiped out. The
skin sags and the heart fails but she will always be herself.
And sooner than we know (for haven’t these first 33 years melted
away?) we will all be there. And then hopefully we will have the courage
to fight younger people who speak to us as if we were slightly stupid
finally that dark moment - and they do strike - where the emptiness is
frightening when I went to my grandmother sought and found comfort and
laughter - I forgot she was 82. She, diabetic as she is, called me Hitler
for refusing her chocolates and I calling her dirty names. “My darling
old sack.” “My beloved bag.” Finally she knows she is seen and
delighted she screams with laughter. “I am your bag, I know it.” That
fire will rage until it is not there at all. So the epiphany of the season
came in piece by piece.
out of the car in the dark rain to pick out Carnival costumes while magic
was being created with a dozen or pairs of eyes and hands-- bits of silver
tinsel and downy white feathers, and emerald green and red and gold. Death
and mortality were nowhere in sight. Spinning into the stillness of lent
was Eternal creation. I knew that even a hundred years from now, 200 and
more maybe - this ritual will continue.
there was the moment at 3.00 am when we had to stop the car. Soft rain and
breeze brushed our faces and we got out and waltzed on the pavement to
Elvis of all people. Well, we are the offspring of the flower children of
the sixties aren’t we? There is continuity.
this spring, winter - call it what you will but this season of the calypso
music, swaying breezes and cool nights has, as always, peeled away the
dead husk, revealing the new and the old.