house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Monday, 28 April 2014

About Change

In the dream the mother and the father had just gotten off a train and were walking together, towards their grown up daughter. They were younger than this child of theirs, and beautiful. The setting sun made them shimmer like melting gold and as they walked closer the two appeared like one creature, complete and contained in their own love.

The daughter had never seen them like this.

'I've never known you like this' she said, meaning 'young', meaning 'magical', meaning 'in love'.

'It is important', the mother said, 'that you know.'


That day the daughter had reason to think about change - not changing jobs, places, hairstyle, shoes but changing long habits, behaviour, character, heart:  what triggers such change?

She remembered her mother falling ill. Collapsing in the bathroom, lifted to the ambulance, whisked away. Days without the mother and without news. Much later, the story of this illness: how they had put the mother on the strongest antibiotics, how machines did all the breathing for her and tubes did all the eating, how she just wouldn't wake up.

The doctor had finally called the father to say the following:

'She's gravely ill and yet she would get better if she wanted to.' 

As a statement, it was rather puzzling, not something a doctor might say.  The father flared up, what-do-you-mean, and there-must-be-a-way, and do-something-it's-your-job etc., but the woman shook her head, no:

'We've done our part. In healing, machines and medicines can do only so much. The patient needs to have something to live for, and do the rest.'

This, for my father, was the trigger. He walked to my mother's bedside and talked to her for a long time. She opened her eyes and he said everything again. They took the tubes out of her mouth, her arms, her chest. He came back the next day and told her the same story. Her temperature fell. She ate a little. She slept. Later he took her out of the hospital and began to do, to be, what he had told her. He gave her this gift he had pledged: his big heart, every day, for as long as it kept beating.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Evil Eye

Back home, after the crafts fair, head buzzing, I fall –no, worse – plunge into a bizarre headache. Dizzy, aching, can’t-stand, shivery, void: dzzzzzz, says the crippled consciousness. One syllable, please, just-one-syllable, because M. seems to want to know what’s wrong: 

‘Aughhh’, I say.

‘What is it?’ and he really should not grasp my waist because now, clipped to him so to speak, I feel I can bend like paper, like grass, and fall. Hanging from his shoulder, I manage a whole wealth of syllables, as follows:

‘Evil. Eye.’

The man demands explanation, in hushed and horrified tones. Oh blast. This is where I can recall but not remind. I’ll have to tell him the story. The visit – from an employee of my father’s – had been agonizing: marzipan cake and gladioli, platitudes and school-related compliments. The woman was tall and thin, sat with a stiff back and seemed to honk and wheeze a little (although surely not) when she talked.  As soon as she left, I got faint and dizzy, aching all over like now. 

Mum called Stella and I know nothing about passing out on the bed, only that I opened my eyes to find this prune-face peering in as if she were looking over the high stone side of a well, and I were a sheet of water too deep to reach.

‘Oh madam, she’s got it bad, this little one….’ I heard her say. She was a village woman who’d come to Bucharest for a medical check-up and stayed on, ‘to help around the house’. 

‘I got what?’ I croaked.

‘The evil eye!’ they both declared at the same time.

Coal was burned and dunked in water to confirm the diagnosis (‘it’s bad’, Stella muttered, ‘a real bad ‘un’). And as I lay there feeling stricken, heroic, important and doomed, she sat on the floor by my bed and whispered prayers above my forehead. I opened my eyes and stared in fascination at her fleshy, trembling lips.

Stella would only stop praying to address curses at the evil-eye-perpetrator, in this case easily, almost eagerly identified as our visitor. ‘It’s envy, madam, pure jealousy madam, that horse-woman madam, may the evil eye turn on her, when she smears that flashy pink lipstick on, the she-devil’… and so on. They exchanged meaningful looks, my mother holding a bowl of water and floating coals, Stella spinning her endless string of prayer and curse. 

Stella’s theory went as follows: the ‘real target’ of the evil eye was not I, but my mother, ‘for being so young and beautiful, and married to my father, such a great and good man, and having the two lovely children and working in that grand school, the best schoolteacher in town too, of course the lumpy-clumpy horse-woman would wilt with envy, what with that pink lipstick and those thick ankles and thus unsurprisingly single and with a rebel child out of wedlock, madam, I would not be surprised’..

It was a great story, in which I had saved my mother by sacrificing myself to the evil eye, and now she, Stella, was going to save me, ‘the sweet lamb, so help her God’. 

And I was saved, but seem to have retained to this day a certain weakness for catching the evil eye, like some people attract mosquitoes, bad boyfriends or lightning. And now, with Stella gone and all the other village women too, all I have for a cure is this curious (!) man who listens to my story and then lifts my head with one hand and in the other holds a glass of water (but no burning coal) and a small silver sheet of paracetamol.

Re-Mind and Re-Member

Some days I’m not sure about memory. I wake up new, light, resolute and as soon as I step outside the house things start reminding me of things. 

‘Reminding’, what a word – remind, re-mind, supposed to mean what? To re-bring-to-mind, to re-put-your-mind-to-it, but also quite possibly to re-mind, to mind afresh, recall some ancient ache, repeat the minding? Why on earth do we do that? No wonder the mind is worn out, with all this funny, hopping-and-skipping, relentless march backwards and forwards. 

I don’t even need to get in the gates to remember (and here’s another extraordinary word: remember, re-member, ‘re-people’ an old setting, like picking up some puppets you dropped on the floor, to put on a show in some faraway place of the mind).  

…today’s stage - a lovely garden revisited and sunshine once more: the arts-and-crafts fair at my friend’s house in Islamabad is back, the huge pot of pilau is back, the fresh coffee, the paintings, the pottery, hand-made soap and Alladin lamps… I don’t buy much because I’m always poor (in that respect reality always matches memory) but I walk around like a kid in a toy shop, then sit around chatting all afternoon.

And then... the next blog happens. Go calling, find me there re-calling, and this way, one day, we can all re-mind and re-member, while the world ticks on and on and on.