Sunday, 26 April 2020

The Unkempt House

We moved into our brand new house in November many years ago. My baby girl, Carol, was just a year old. I would take her for walks every day, Sometimes she would walk and other days I would wheel her in her pram.
When she was in the pram the walks went quicker as I was in control. When she walked … oh well! Let’s just assume that she was in control.
She was fascinated by one of the houses that we regularly walked past. She always wanted to dive in to the gate and explore. I often had to pick her up so that we could carry on with our walk. She didn’t like that one little bit but I didn’t like the house. The grass needed mowing, weeds threatened to entwine the gate and all the border flowers that once existed there were being consumed by undergrowth.
Her fascination with the house increased as she got older. She found the ship’s bell that was mounted on the wall next to the door particularly fascinating. Her questions about the place were mostly unanswerable.
“Mummy, why are the windows always closed?”
“Mummy, why don’t we ever see anyone out walking in the garden?”
“Mummy, why don’t they clean up the garden?”
“Ah mom, can’t I just go in and ring the ship’s bell?”
All I could answer most of the time was “I really have no idea.” But that last question was always a resounding “NO!”
We never seemed to see any movement in or around the house. It could be a ghost house for all we knew.
Carol reached the age of thirteen and still the questions plagued her. One day it all got too much for her and she climbed over the fence and marched up to the front door. I swear that if I had known what she was going to do I would have done everything in my power to stop her.
When she got to the door she clanged the ship’s bell as hard as she could.
A wavering voice shouted out “Go away! We don’t need your kind here!”
She called out “What kind am I? You don’t even know me. I want to help you if you need help. I want to get to know you if you need a friend. I want to just be here for you.”
There was silence for a brief while and then she heard squeaking and squealing and bolts being unlocked and then the door creaked open. She found her courage leaving her and she was just about to turn tail and run - but she had left the decision too late. There poised in the doorway was an old man in a wheelchair. He had an unkempt appearance and was very thin.
“So now you have seen me what do you have to say for yourself?”
“I just want to be kind, be your friend.”
“I don’t need friends thank you very much and why would I want a slip of a girl to be my friend?”
“I don’t know.”
And the two just stared at one another for a few moments.
Finally Carol picked up the courage to ask “Do you need help cleaning the house, doing the garden, shopping?”
“Why? All you want is to grab my treasures. Who sent you?”
“No one,” replied Carol.
“Rubbish! It’s that ne’er do well cousin of mine isn’t it?”
“No! I don’t know your cousin. I just love people and old people are the best. You all have such interesting things to tell.”
And the two just stood there again sizing one another up.
Again Carol decided to break the ice. “Do you need me to do any shopping for you?”
“NO!” shouted the man. “I get deliveries of anything that I need and I don’t need nosey people.”
“I’m not nosey. I would just like to help.”
“Well don’t just stand there then. Come in, come in and see what you have been missing all these years. Yes, I have watched you since you were a tiny tot. This house has always fascinated you.”
“Yes it has. But I never ever saw you.”
”I was careful to always watch you from behind my curtains. I laughed when you tried to run away from you mother. So yes, I am a little bit curious about you as well.”
As she walked in she was amazed at how spotless it was. It was cluttered but clean and neat.
“How do you manage to keep it clean? Oooh that was insensitive of me. Sorry!”
The man laughed. “Not all. I do have help. Christine has been with me for many years. She lives in the top level of the house and I live on the bottom floor. She helps me when I need it and keeps to herself when I don’t need anything.”
He wheeled his way into the house.
“Come sit, sit! Let me show you my treasures.”
It turned out that the man was a sailor, going to many countries and many ports and at every port he bought mementoes of his trip. His parents had owned the house and he always came back home when his ship had docked in Durban harbour.
One day when he was 32 years old he had fallen down the ladder as he was coming down from the top deck. He had fallen on his back onto some equipment that was stacked at the bottom of the ladder. He lay there in great pain unable to move until he was found a few hours later.
The person who had found him realised that he was badly injured and called the captain. It was a small cargo ship so there was no medical staff. Four crew men were called and he was gently laid onto a pallet and secured there. Fortunately they were close to the port of Calcutta. The captain radioed for medical staff to meet the ship as there was a severely injured man on board. He was taken to hospital and spent 3 months there. Part of the time he was in a cast but the injury was very severe and there was no hope that he would ever walk again. He ended up in a wheelchair and was sent home to his parents.
At first he was too angry to allow people to visit. Soon people got tired of trying to be social and he was left with just his memories and his parents. His parents did the best that they could until their deaths and then he grew old by himself. The only person who was a more or less constant in his life was Christine.
After he had told Carol his story the ice was broken and he was keen to show off his treasures.
He took pride in the way he had stored his treasures. Each downstairs room was devoted to a country that he had visited while he served his time on the ship.
The first room they explored together was his Chinese room. Carol was fascinated. Soon she was trusted to hold some of the artefacts. There were tapestries. There was one that was placed in the centre of the one wall. Carol was captivated by its beauty. It was a geisha girl standing in a garden. Her face was protected by a gold and scarlet parasol. This gold and scarlet theme was picked up in her dress. There was a cherry tree full of blossoms behind her. Her face was pretty and was lovingly sewn to show her small scarlet lips and strange blue eyes. She had a large blossom in her neatly done hair. Her stance was typical of geisha girls, knees slightly flexed and body slightly twisted at the hips. She gazed unseeingly from the stitched fabric.
Next came some carvings, there several Buddhas, and numerous Chinese dragons. There was a small, delicate carving of a boat with a boatman standing at the back holding a long pole. The boatman wore a typical conical hat.
Colourful cloths adorned the carved tables. The tables were intricately carved in a Chinese theme. Carol felt that she was lost in another era, another time, another place. She gazed in wonder at the willow pattern plates that adorned the walls and tables.
With a start she came out of her almost trance and realised that she had been missing from home for quite a long time.
“I really must go. My mom will be wondering what has happened to me and I haven’t got to see everything that this room has and I haven’t seen any of the other treasures. I just love this room but I really need to go. Can I come back and see you again? Please? Please?”
The man laughed and said “I have really enjoyed your company. Yes please come to see me again so I can show you the other treasures in my home.”
“But I want to see the rest of the treasures in this room.”
“Yes we can start here next time.”
“What can I call you? I need to have a name that I can attach to the mind picture that I have of you.”
“My name is Paul.”
“Must I call you Uncle Paul or what?”
“No just Paul will do.”
“Thank you Paul. I look forward to my next visit.”
She left the house with a smile on her face as she skipped back home.
She was greeted by her frantic mom.
“Where have you been? I have been outside calling you. I have been running up and down the street. I have been calling you on your cell. I have been so close to calling the police.”
“Oh mom, don’t be melodramatic! I’ve been visiting Paul. And sorry but I forgot my phone at home. Forgive me? Please? Please?”
“Why do you always think that repeating the word please will get you what you want? And who the heck is Paul?” demanded her mother grabbing onto the fact that confused her.
“Paul lives in that near abandoned house that has fascinated me for years.”
“You didn’t just go there? It could have been dangerous. You are not to go there again.”
“Ah mom don’t be like that. It’s fine. He is an old man in a wheelchair. He was a sailor...”
“Do you hear me? NEVER again!”
Carol’s lips formed a stubborn line as she said “You can’t do that to me. I am old enough to make this decision for myself.”
“No you are not,” spluttered her mother. “He may molest you … he may kill you, poison you, keep you a prisoner…”
“Mom would it make you feel any better if you came with me next time? I promise you will be just as fascinated with him, his house and his treasures as I am.”
Her mom thought for a moment and then decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. The next day the two of them made their way to Paul’s house.
Paul was not pleased to see two people on his doorstep the next day.
“Please don’t be cross!” said Carol. “This was the only way I could come back. Mom thought you may be someone depraved who wanted to harm me.”
“I remember how protective she was of you when you were little. Okay come in come in. Don’t stand there letting the dirt get into my house.”
Carol’s mom held her hand out. “Hi. I am Claire. Nice to finally meet you Paul.”
Carol watched as her mom’s eyes widened with the splendour around her.
“See mom. All is well. Let’s explore!”
© Vera Alexander

Friday, 21 February 2020

New Beginnings

Leandra let her head rest on the window of the bus as she gazed out at the passing scenery. Her mind was a jumble of thoughts. Had she been too hasty in making this decision was the most predominant thought and then came smidgeons of thoughts as her mind danced around the main problem.
Mentally she took herself in hand and shook herself. 
“Come on now. Be sensible. You cannot have second thoughts, your bridges are burnt.”
But then a niggling doubt made itself known.
“Are all your bridges burnt?”
“Yes they are!” admonished her saner self.
How could she have doubts? The future looked bright and rosy.
She had left all the nonsense of her previous life behind when she had climbed the steps of the bus.
Left Sarah, left Alvin, left all the woes behind her in Durban and she was now travelling to the Mother City. She liked the sound of that. Mother City. Maybe she would get all the motherliness that her soul needed once she arrived there.
Her mother was a self-possessed successful artist and had little patience with the wiles of her only child. Leandra didn’t know her father. Her mother had decided that she needed a child to complete her lifestyle and had visited the sperm bank, chosen someone and a year later Leandra had arrived on the scene.
Her mother had not been prepared for the time that was necessary for a baby and had enlisted the help of her mother, Lily. Fortunately Lily was a loving and affectionate person so Leandra was cossetted and loved until the untimely death of her grandmother. By this time she was 11 years old and old enough to fend for herself in her mother’s opinion. School terms were taken care of as Leandra was shipped off to boarding school and she just became an issue during the holidays but she quickly learnt to make herself scarce when her mother was around.
She had developed a love for reading and she had spent most of the time in her room or in the summerhouse in the garden where she could lose herself in the book of the moment.
Her love of reading led to her taking courses at University which would prepare her to be a writer. Unfortunately her rampant imagination did not match her lack of motivation so nothing much was happening in that department.
Her bus was passing a field and her attention was diverted to the animals in the field. From there her mind flipped back to the problems she was leaving behind.
Sarah and Alvin. What a horribly typical story that was. Sarah was the closest thing to being her best friend and Alvin – Alvin with his dark hair that shone and moved as he moved. His hair was an extension of himself. Almost shoulder length, full of bouncy curls that framed his bronzed features. His eyes always seemed to be smiling. She had loved it when he would sneak up behind her, grab her round the waist and swing her around to face him and bring his lips in to meet hers.
They made quite a contrast. Leandra’s blond hair and almost colourless features against his darkness. Just as Alvin’s hair and features were an extension of himself so was Leandra’s. It was always easy for her to disappear into the background. She loved it when they were sitting in a group and Alvin would hold her close as she sat in the space created by his crossed legs. She almost felt that she was no longer insignificant.
It is said that men have an 80/20 vision of their partner. Even if the partner satisfies 80% of what they need they still look around for the 20%. Sarah was Alvin’s 20%. She was loud and lively and seemed to extract every element out of life. A huge contrast to Leandra. It wasn’t long before Alvin started to notice Sarah and Sarah was quick to take advantage. She did not believe in the sanctity of friendship. If something was there that she wanted she went all out to get it. Poor Alvin didn’t stand a chance.
Slowly it became very evident what was happening and Leandra retreated further and further away. She could not handle confrontation and was always very quick to retreat into her safe place, her box as she often called it.
One day she was idly paging through a magazine and she saw it. An advert for a reader in a Cape Town publishing house. Before she fully realised what was happening she applied for the job, got it, bid goodbye to all that was familiar and hurtful, climbed onto the bus and was now travelling to her new life.
Her mind was jumping in and out of thoughts, the most disturbing one being “You can’t run away from yourself.”
© Vera Alexander

Saturday, 28 September 2019

AIrport assisted travel experience

A while back there was a Facebook post that went something like this (Including the gist - sorry if I got the wording wrong):

“At the airport today I saw a man being pushed in a wheelchair only to see him get out and 
walk away unaided and quite okay. Shame on you.”

I would like to add some clarity to this situation.

I had recently booked an overseas holiday using BA direct from Durban to Heathrow. (Brilliant decision as it turned out.) I was an extremely nervous passenger due to an earlier very bad flying experience. I am prone to anxiety and panic attacks in unknown situations so my daughter and I decided that assisted travel was the way for me to go.

When I checked in they asked if I needed a wheelchair. I said no, assistance was all that I needed. Well the lady assigned to assist me was marvellous she linked arms with me, took my hand luggage and put it on the wheelchair she was steering with her right hand. As I caught sight of the monstrosity that was to transport me my head got light, my breathing got shallow and the tears started gushing. She held onto me and talked constantly in a low, slow manner things like “Breathe, it’s okay, I’ve got you. All is well …” etc.

To my relief I managed to regain control. She took me to the door and spoke to the hostess who took me to my seat and made sure that I was settled comfortably and stressed that I must call for them if I felt panicky.

The trip was a dream and I started to realise that I could do this. But I was booked on assisted travel throughout and had to live with it until I got back to South Africa again.
When I got to Heathrow there were 9 people who needed assistance. They had an electric car and one wheelchair; I assured them I could walk. So again I had linked arms with the lady while she steered the lady in the wheelchair. We were whisked through passport control after meandering up and down, round and about, in lifts, travellators and electric train. I was totally bewildered and so glad I had someone who knew what they were doing. The lady in the wheelchair said she could walk from baggage collection as long as she had a trolley so the two of went through a totally unmanned custom to meet our loved ones.

The night before I travelled to Tel Aviv I had a gastric attack of enormous proportions and probably shouldn’t have travelled but that would have affected too many apple carts. So off to Heathrow feeling very delicate and there they insisted that I use a wheelchair otherwise no assistance. So into the wheelchair the big fraud went. But as I was feeling a bit delicate I must admit I was glad not to face the train, the lifts, passport, customs, and travellators by myself. My bewilderment was extreme even though I had a lovely man taking me through it all. As the trip to the UK had been lovely and uncomplicated I was not panicky or anxious just bewildered.

I got on board and enjoyed the 5 hour trip to Tel Aviv. When I got there a wheelchair chair was waiting at the door of the plane and the young man coerced me to use it as it was a long walk. Still feeling a bit delicate I Okayed his suggestion and was whisked through passport, customs, corridors, baggage, turns, ups and downs to be deposited with my loved ones. So yes I got out of the wheelchair in public and walked to my loved ones – no miracle here just relief that I had made it.

7 days later saw me back in Tel Aviv confronted by a wheelchair and no amount of protestations worked. I had to get in and enjoy the ride to the plane seasoned traveller that I now was but still bewildered by the ups, down, passages, lifts.

At Heathrow I was met by my “carer” and asked if I could walk to the collection point. Yep no problem. We sat in a cordoned off area waiting for our names to be called. Finally 5 of us made it to an electric car. Up lifts, down lifts, dropping two passengers along the way then the three of us went to another “holding area” in the middle of nowhere – 2 of us bound for Durban and one Indian lady with virtually no English who was bound for Canada. After comparing our boarding passes we sat in bewilderment waiting for clarity. We still had about 3 hours in our holding pattern so the two Durbanites sat and chatted and kept on reassuring the Indian lady that all would be well. Soon a trio of wheelchairs arrived when I protested I was kindly assisted in and told enjoy the ride as it is quite far and by gum it was. I walked to the plane and 12 hours later faced the wheelchair again together with 26 others. 
Two electric cars and several wheelchairs arrived and my protestations were ignored with a lovely smile so what the hell if you can’t beat them join them and I enjoyed the seamless ride through customs, passport etc. I did however insist on collecting my bag and walking with a trolley to meet my SA loved ones.

So here was I, a reasonably fit, elderly dance teacher taking advantage of assisted travel and all it entailed.

Oh and heads up for BA! Food, flight, friendliness, helpfulness and humour must take a lot to beat.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

My natural environment

22 years ago almost to the day, I came to view this property. It was fine until I went and stood on the balcony which is off the lounge. The lounge is both the first and second floor. You enter on the first and the bedrooms are downstairs. So the other side of the lounge is now the second floor. Complicated I know! But back to the issue.

Place was fine and then I opened the balcony door. I was surrounded by trees and looking, not at the trunks, but at the tree tops. I could hear the birds twittering. How magnificent! From here I was fully ensconced in nature. I couldn’t see anything of my neighbours’ homes except for their gardens. As far as I looked I saw nature. We had fortunately had some rain and I could hear the flow of water. Yes, there was a stream as our one boundary. I was blown away and asked where could I sign?

Well 22 years later I am sorry to say. Not much has changed – the trees are bigger, Nature still surrounds me, I still cannot see much sign of life BUT I am too busy to appreciate it.
When I moved in I would sit outside for hours at night. We have a tree frog colony which was magic to listen to, we have owls hooting but I could never see them. And now Netflix and Facebook has taken over.

I eat breakfast, lunch and supper at the computer keyboard most days. Today I decided to take a proper lunch break. I sat and drank a cup of my homemade lemon and ginger ‘flu fighting potion and listened. At first all I could hear was the occasional Hadedah, kid’s voices, an electric saw, cars in the distance and then my consciousness took over, there were the chirping birds, a butterfly and a bee buzzing around me. Such beauty.

We are so fortunate to have a family of hornbills nesting on the property. I delight to the sound of the “crying child”. We have at least two Lorie in the complex and every now and then you can catch sight of them as they flitter from branch to branch.

Sunset is mind-blowing with sound as the birds – so many types – settle down for the night with Berri sitting “Ack-acking” away with not a hope in the world that she can make the attack.

This evening I must go out at sunset. I must make time in my day to appreciate the wonders around me but I am so afraid that I will let life happen again and I will forget to take those few minutes to enjoy what I have included in my levy – a wonder that has no price.
View from the balcony in March