Two Fridays ago, I decided to check out a patisserie during my lunch break and satisfy my sweet tooth. It became a day that will stick with me for a while.
When I got there, the sweet aroma and sight of a wide variety of delectable sweets on display made me linger and hesitate in picking out which one to try first. Just then, an elderly woman came and started eyeing those tarts and profiteroles, and she voiced out exactly what I was thinking. Opening my mouth to politely reply end up costing me more than I bargained for. Was it worth it? You tell me.
* * *
I could sense she wanted company.
After a hesitant pause, she asked me if I minded joining her while we each partake a piece of our chosen dessert. It was a lovely, cool sunny day, far different from the drab, rainy weather we experienced during the past Sydney summer. I wasn’t rushing to go back to work and being aware of how much the extroverted elderly people long for conversations, and feeling generous of my time, I obliged. I didn’t expect to stay for more than twenty minutes but she talked non-stop for two hours!
Rei turned out to be a very interesting woman! An intelligent, well-read 84 year old, she shared with me her interest in history, travel, arts – living art, she emphasised – including classical and rock music!
Decades back, she left England as a school dropout and, penniless, grabbed the opportunity to migrate to Australia and start out a new life.
In those two hours, she shared with me her life stories that showed an enlightened, broadminded father who taught her from a young age that though people look different, we are all the same underneath; of her adventures in Asia and Europe; her experiences living as a white person in South Africa during the apartheid era and raising a mixed-race son; and dealing with people with narrow-minded views and beliefs.
These days, she spends her time taking walks in Parramatta, where she now resides after living for a long time in Cremorne; reading books she borrows from the local library; watching plays in the local theatre; and watching ethnic festivals when they’re on. She and her husband parted ways and her only son died three years ago. He was schizophrenic.
Her memory is remarkable! She would repeat full names and describe the personalities of people she met on the ship on her way to Australia, during her other travels and those she befriended while living here and the details of their conversations. I can’t even remember the first or last names of most of my teachers!
With my eyes fixed on her while I slowly sip my skim mocha, she recited a couple of poems to me, sung a tune or two, suggested books for me to read, shared her love for the Aboriginal people and people of all cultures, and scoffed at prejudiced people, and politicians and politics.
In one of those rare moments where she paused, I managed to quickly share my newly-discovered interest in chanting, which I thought would impress her. Surprisingly, she then recited a sacred mantra she knew by heart. I listened in amazement.
Under the glare of the early afternoon sun and while gushing at the delicious sweet snacks we were having, we discovered we have many things in common, like the love of:
- Rock music
- Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page
- Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie Mercury
Wow, an 84-year-old woman who loves ROCK! I’m as amazed to hear this as when I hear of rock music-appreciating Gen-Ys, like my friend Fran, as most of these young kids these days generally have no idea what real great music sound like! 🙂
She must have been one cool woman during her time. She still is ‘cool’, actually. She mentioned she watched the unforgettable concert film, ‘The Song Remains the Same,’ which she loved. Not to be outdone, I let her know I watched it three times! She was duly impressed!
I could imagine her musical drummer son, whom she recalled fondly, playing Stairway to Heaven with his acoustic guitar which she bought for him, to veer him away from the hard drumming that he played. She said she encouraged her son when he was still alive to play and listen to higher vibration music, like classical music, to help him with his mental condition.
You could tell she looked after herself. Her facial skin is not that lined for her age and her powdered face still shows a beauty she must have enjoyed at her youth. Her current short, light brown hair becomes her. Spanish gay friends she met and befriended would call her élégante. But she’s no longer that, she says, because she’s now old.
She narrated her love of nature and hearing the sounds of the birds in the morning. She says she was raised an Anglican/Protestant but she had left it all behind and now considers her god as the moon, the stars, the trees.
She survived breast cancer. She has firm ideas about how the female breasts should be regarded and voiced her disapproval of the way men view women’s breasts.
At 16, she fell in love for the first time but it was ‘unconsummated,’ she says. I didn’t dare ask her when and with whom it finally happened, but her mother certainly drummed into her the risks of having premarital sex.
With no inhibition, she casually dropped the word ‘sex’ like we were long-time best friends! I kept asking myself over and over while she continued talking, ‘Did I hear it right, did she really say ”sex”?’ Hence, damn it, I missed hearing what must have been the juicy details of her life!
She’s not wearing spectacles or contact lenses so her eyesight is obviously still good, her hearing is much better than mine, she walks unaided and still does her own shopping, and I’m sure there are other things she ably does by herself.
But I feel a tinge of sadness. Though her mental faculty is still enviably sharp, her physical body is showing inevitable signs of ageing and decline. She has poor body circulation, she says. Her wrinkled wrists and neck, the exposed body parts of which her beige, old long-sleeve winter coat couldn’t hide, are covered with big brown spots. She may not need eyeglasses but her eyes often become watery. She has no family to look after her or to keep her company. She must have friends but most are probably long gone. She might have once rocked it, but at this stage of her life she can no longer be a party animal that I, ahem, still am.
I tried to get up from my seat to slowly say ‘bye, thanks for the chat,’ but she didn’t take notice and continued talking leisurely, not really minding that I was late getting back to work. She couldn’t let this opportunity pass by so easily, I suppose, to share old stories that are still alive in her long memory and are waiting in anticipation to be shared to a willing listener. I slowly eased half of my behind off the chair and poised to bolt. At my third attempt to interrupt her storytelling, I got up to say firmly, ‘I have to get back to work.’
She gave me her number for in case I feel the desire to have a chat with her again. I sensed she didn’t really seriously count on me contacting her ever. She must have offered her contact number to many others, with the small hope that one of them would call one day.
Reality for me is, I don’t get to hang out with thinkers like her too often. People who read to learn and broaden their perspective; people who question established beliefs and biases; people who defy the norm and follow what they feel is the right thing to do, not just believing things are the way they should be done just because the majority think so.
She apologised for talking too much. I replied that I enjoyed our talk immensely and I learned a lot. She paused, looked me in the eye and firmly said, ‘no, you didn’t learn from me; I learned from you.’ I tried to quickly recall what it was that I could have possibly said of value but none came to mind.
‘I must learn more about the Philippines, especially before the time of the Spanish colonisation’, she says. With dismay, I offered the information that the thoughtless Europeans who invaded my country of birth, destroyed most of the ancient and written artifacts that must have depicted a rich life and history of the ancient Filipinos. She replied that they did the same thing in South America.
I made a mental note to re-read Philippine history and silently chastised myself for not taking to heart my history lessons in school.
She assured me she’d let me talk more next time.
Ever since that fateful day, I’ve been thinking about how I enjoyed sitting at a sidewalk café during a perfect autumn weather, discussing life over Lebanese halva with a stranger, a woman of substance.
There’s a lot more for her to share, for sure. Stories spanning more than eight decades and ideas and opinions formed while living a meaningful life, with details too interesting and too eventful to narrate in two hours.
Still, I find myself begging the question, ‘Should I see her again?’
Hmmm… perhaps at another one fine day, I might give her a call to suggest repeating for me over coffee and a baklava the juicy details of her life that I might have missed hearing the first time. 😀
This blog is to close the chapter of my ‘F’ story. One person, at least, is curious to know what happened to Florentino.
I wasn’t part of the elite group that Florentino and the girls who surrounded him belonged to. They were the smart ones but, Florentino, as I mentioned, was the top student of the class.
My class standing in first grade was average (story of my school life, really). Mrs Lavastida, somehow, managed to lure me occasionally out of my shell.
One day, Mrs Lavastida decided to pit one student against another, to see who could read well in English and fast. Being secretly competitive, I wanted to impress everyone, most especially Florentino.
I raised my hand. I knew I could beat those slow ones! Mrs Lavastida kept ignoring me, however, and called everyone else except me. And the later the lines of text to read, the harder they got, at least for a first grader.
It seemed my hand was raised forever when, finally, my teacher noticed me. She called my name and I eagerly stood up. As I was checking out the next sentence to read to give myself a head start, guess who she decided to pit against me??
She could have called one of those who, after a few lessons, still couldn’t read. But, noooo, she had to pick Florentino!!
Florentino already had his turn and it dismayed me that she called him again. Discouraged even before we started reading, I knew it was a lost cause. I was only halfway and struggling through my line, and Florentino had stood up, read his sentence lightning quick, sat back on his chair and bowed his head, perhaps to try and look magnanimous.
Any fantasy I had of impressing him and getting his attention away from the bevies of cute little girls who liked him, went down the drain.
Later on, it occurred to me that I had no chance to compete with the smart kids in that class. Most of them went through nursery and kindergarten, which meant they started school a year or so before me. They were well ahead of me.
Out of my girl classmates, only two stood out for me and I still clearly remember them: Anna and Irene.
Anna was the smartest girl in the class. She wasn’t what you’d call beautiful, but she was pretty and well-groomed. She belonged to the long list of girls who liked Florentino.
Irene, on the other hand, was my neighbour. She was pretty too. Dark with short hair, she lived in the same complex where I temporarily stayed. She belonged to the second list of girls who were indifferent to Florentino. But, if you read my previous blog post about Florentino, I was on both lists, right?
As a six year old, this is how I saw and assessed the situation:
Try as Anna might, Florentino only had eyes for Irene. But, Irene, as much as I liked her was, I suspected, a tomboy. Not that there is anything wrong with that! It’s just that poor Florentino had no idea. I noticed Irene was the only one he was very friendly with and kidded around with her a lot.
I don’t know if Irene turned out to be a real tomboy or if she outgrew her tomboy phase. I don’t know what became of her and Florentino. Sometimes, I wonder what became of my first grade classmates.
As fate would have it, my parents found a new place for us to stay, farther from my very first school but closer to another school, a public school. It was also farther and away from Florentino… forever.
Next post: A Paradox
I’m staring at my tiny feet half-buried in the white, powder-fine sand…
I feel the heat of the late morning sun. As my family and I start to walk to join others already frolicking on the beach, I pull a face of discomfort and cry out for my slippers. It’s a short walk, but I can barely tolerate the hot sand scorching my bare feet.
Grasping my mother’s hand, we rush toward the water. I feel relief as I step on the cool water, the wave washing over my feet. Members of my family laugh and enjoy themselves. I shiver and my jaw quivers, while I play in the water for just a little bit. My mother wraps a towel around me and it’s a welcome relief.
We walk back to where the rest of the clan is and find them enjoying freshly-grilled fish for lunch. This time, I notice the now cream-colour sand clinging to my cold, wet feet. Feeling sticky, at this moment I decided I don’t like going to the beach or swimming or walking barefoot in the hot sand. (LOL)
* * *
Though hazy, this is my very first recollection of going to this much-loved island when I was little. Wish I could tell you more but that’s all I remember.
I wasn’t really intending to be here at this time but I’m back. I’ve only visited the place three other times since. Now much, much, muccchhh older, I make sure I bring my own slippers (or thongs)!
As I sit in my cossies in this island facing the Pacific Ocean somewhere in the southeast, surrounded by dalisay and coconut trees, or walk alone and along this short stretch of seashore, I contemplate Rachel Snyder’s invitation and consider my next move.
In this tiny but easily-accessible island, one can appreciate the crystal clear, blue-green sea. It’s a perfect place for sea diving, I was told; or to snorkel and ogle at its rich marine life; or do more simple pleasures like enjoying the views, while sipping fresh, sweet coconut juice; or explore a hidden cave for the more adventurous.
Yes, Earthianne, has been on holiday mode and taking a break from working and blogging… but only for a short time.
I had some spare cash and lots of free time so off from work I went. For a “measly” A$25 and “only” 4.5 hours of my time, including travel time, I had a reasonable expectation that I was going to enjoy myself.
The play already started when I got there. I found a seat and then quickly scanned my surroundings. It was a small hall, filled with less than 100 people.
The play turned out to be the most boring thing since [fill in the blank with whatever is the most excruciatingly boring thing for you]. The performers were reading from a script, were overacting and still managed to be unconvincing.
I won’t bore you with details about the play or the group, not only because it bored me to tears but I was overcome with disbelief that I tried to forget this ever happened. I just remembered the incident out of the blue.
To make this short story shorter, it turned out that I was watching a play by a CULT, trying their hardest to convince their audience and themselves that they are not in any way, shape or form, a CULT!
Apparently, a few individuals and groups have accused them of being so. Don’t ask me how I knew those accusers were right. You don’t spend a whole hour—perhaps the whole play—justifying why your group is not a cult.
It’s embarrassing to admit to you what sort of things I sometimes find myself in because:
I’m being too nice, silly, gullible, naive, plain stupid, sleep-deprived, got up from the wrong side of the bed, depressed-and-unaware-of-it, uhmmm… dumb, or all of the above reasons.
What’s doubly insane is I actually paid money so I could waste my time, make myself out of pocket and bore myself to death. I could have wasted my time for free, or at least spent less doing something less stupidly boring.
After a longer-time than was necessary, I got up and left. When I was out of the hall, I rushed outside, trembling and fearing they were going to stop and try and brainwash me.
Of course, it was only my imagination running wild but my heart was racing. I only calmed down when I realised no one was following me.
In my eternal quest for enlightenment, I almost plunge myself deep into the world of the silly. I had my closest brush with a cult, or… well… at least a cult-like group.
Note to self: Please spend your time and money wisely, ask a lot of questions and use your thinking skills coz that’s what the brain is for.
You are welcome to berate me. 🙂