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Category: Women Date: 16 Dec 99


Life happens to you when you’re not looking, or trying to make it happen. I was chatting with two sisters, both mature women. They are one generation above me yet some things, like girl talk, are timeless: we lolled on the bed, deliberated the nail polish on our toes, admired one another’s hair, or hands, drank tea, laughed, smoked, exchanged confidences and comfort, smiled and frowned.

 

One of the sisters recalled how, on the days it rained she and her classmates would escape punishment for being late back to the convent after lunchtime in town. “When we were completely dry and the rain had stopped, we would stand under the Bougainvillea’s branches and shake its rain water all over us until we were wet through. Then we would go to the convent saying  ‘we’re late because it rained’ and the nuns would make a big fuss of us – make us change our uniforms so we wouldn’t get sick.”

 

And then the 67-year-old Bougainvillea shaking woman laughed a schoolgirl laugh. Throaty, abandoned, filled with delight. The other sister and I shrieked with her.

 

Oh they both had weighty milestones by which most of us define our lives. Went to university, fell in love, got married, bore children, got them married, nursed husbands through sickness, minor and serious.

 

As the two sisters talked about their halls at university, the people they knew, their carefree days, it dawned upon me that life happens to us when we’re not looking, and only hindsight proves that.

 

Their memories of their school days were as sharp as if they had spent yesterday picking guavas on their way home from school. As they spoke, I saw different ages on their faces. Now they were five year old sisters, now they were 15, now 26, now 35, now 50, again, 14. The body may age, but the spirit is as young and as free as you want it to be.

 

That image of the Bougainvillea. (Half plant, half tree) – spreading out to form a umbrella of white, crimson, mauve blossoms to a group of laughing schoolgirls shaking its brittle branches for a shower of stored raindrops continues teases, rustles my imagination but stayed with her these fifty years.

 

A few days later, a friend of mine went to England for Christmas. To my embarrassment I found my tears fell like rain as I bid her bon voyage and happy year 2000 at the airport.

 

I was surprised at myself. Didn’t we talk as if men, children, our families and our work were most important part of our lives?

 

I never expected frivolity, so much inane laughter, impulse shopping together for gods sake – wasting money, hours on the phone, and all that laughter, always laughter, at one another, at people at life with one another – could that produce such a serious emotion as sadness at her three week departure?

 

On the drive back from Piarco, I remembered the nuns and schoolgirls and a shower of water from Bougainvillea – something else too.

 

The second sister had said that lolling evening. “The past is memory, the future is a promise - all we have is the present.” and I thought: “I must keep better track of my life, of the present, and not as if it was the dress rehearsal to something else.”

 

I had been letting the in-between stuff – everyday life, slip through my fingers like sand.

 

The present: It is the moments when we feel that first green-gold gust of morning breeze, rather than that important meeting which will give us a promotion or make us money; it is that chat with the newspaper-woman, or that quick look-in on your parents, rather than the hot date you have tonight; it is in the clasp of the hand of an old colleague, rather than that important contact you’ve been falling over yourself to meet; it is the texture of dried fruit, the kneading of the dough, rather than the perfect cake; it’s watching the 60 seconds of raintears turn into a sunshine smile in a child’s face; it is the shoulder  of a friend rather than the person you are crying over; it’s the warm reflection of yourself in your sister or brothers face across a room; its the preparation for the party, the many dresses -  purple, silver, blue, black, green – crumpling to the floor around you, rather than the winning dress, or the party itself, that is real life.

 

What will you remember, five, ten, twenty, fifty years from now?

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur