Johannesburg 22nd September 2018 - Day 5
We spend the morning writing and walking around the gorgeous gardens, taking photos, and chatting to the staff. Today is a special day, as our old friend Patricia, nicknamed “Tombie” and her and Lara are coming to visit, and they arrive bearing a large chocolate cake. We hug each other tight and weep - it’s fifty years since we have seen each other, when I was bridesmaid at her wedding to Jimmy Guthrie (no relation) in Chingola, shortly after I arrived back from my eighteen month stint living in London. Tombie’s Beloved Jimmy died a year ago, and today is his birthday. She confides later that she didn’t feel like coming, but Lara said it would be good for her. And it is, for us too, for we share stories and laugh and catch up and cry a little more. Tombie’s mother Rose was one of The Two Glamorous Women in Chingola in the late sixties, the other was Sybil, who was the mother of my other good friend, Glenda Head. We laugh as we recall sitting in her mother’s ‘cupboard’ - a whole bedroom dedicated to her clothing - and counting the pairs of shoes she had. We cannot remember exactly, but it was around 200 pairs. People thought Jimmy Guthrie and I were siblings, even the local barber assumed so, as Jimmy and my Dad had the same ‘whorl’ on the crown of their head. He was a good looking boy, and he and Tombie enjoyed 50 years of marriage and four children and many grandchildren, and have been devout Christians for most of their marriage. But back then, we were best friends and young and discovering life - Gerald was the first boy Tombie kisses, and he “Frenched” her. She and I were sat on the top diving board at the Mine Swimming Pool in Chingola when she revealed this secret, saying how disgusting it was “Oh, yuckkkkkkyyyy!” Only to discover Gerald was standing on the top step of the diving board behind us, and she was so embarrasssed, she leapt into the swimming pool, many feet below. Soon after that, she and Jimmy got together, and so did Gerald and I (despite the dire warnings about French kissing ....) and about a year after that, we were having sex with our boyfriends. Although we never ‘discussed’ having sex, we ‘knew’ about each other’s activities. I took her to one side and reminded her of the day I turned up at her house and she was crying, when I asked why, she said she couldn’t tell me. I insisted, and she confessed she thought she was pregnant, as she and Jimmy had ‘lost’ the condom inside of her, and spent some time trying to retrieve it. As funny as this seems now, at the time, it was a tragedy - we were 15 years old! It turns out she wasn’t, but she was - as many of us were (I was just lucky)- pregnant, when she married. She lost her brother Trevor a year ago too - her sister in law is a mutual friend, Dot O’Reilly, who has suffered such tragedy in her life - two sons, one to suicide and the second in a car accident and then her husband, shortly afterwards. We hold hands and cry for Dot and for Tombie, for our parents and siblings and those we love, and also for this miraculous reunion, and as we part, she says “We will probably never see each other again.” That is true, Tombie is a link to our long past in Chingola, and today has been a gift. I feel heavy in the heart when she and Lara leave.
After lunch, Cindy drops Gerald and I back at Aunty Dot’s, I take more gin and tonic, and we spend a happy few hours. She is not sorrowful this afternoon, she has always loved Gerald, and she is at her most entertaining, raconteur best, showing him her orchids in the garden, flirting outrageously, and her stories are, for us, spell binding. Gerald sits alongside of her, his eyes glued to her face, and belly laughs so much I think he may fall off his chair. She tells stories of my parents, my very badly behaved little brother Ian, whom nobody thought would survive long enough to go to school, as he took terrible risks and fell from trees, roofs, archways and had so many stitches in his body, he looked like a piece of embroidery. I take a few videos, she is a natural actor who pauses for effect, extends the punch line, creates mystery, and is very funny. Too soon, it is 4.50 pm - and dinner is served at 5 pm - and she suddenly stands and gathers her wheeled walking frame, and guides us to the exit. No nonsense now, she kisses us both, and abruptly turns and walks away with her characteristic straight back, without a word or a backward glance, but not before I see the tears pouring down her face and a small shake of her shoulders. This is too quick, and I go to follow her, but Gerald shakes his head, no, she can’t deal with a protracted goodbye, and he takes my hand and leads me to the gate, where we stand, me crying, waiting for an Uber. An Uber! In Johannesburg! I know I will not see Aunty Dot again, she has been such a significant part of our lives since I was seven years old, the family we never had in Africa.
As the sun sets, Cindy, Paul, Ryan, Gerald and I sit in the big comfy sofas next to the pool. My heart soars when Cindy comes to sit next to me, and we cuddle with our arms and legs entwined; I wish I had a daughter! She is such a good soul, and I revel in her presence, and she in turn, acknowledges me and says she wishes she had had a mother just like me, and my throat catches. I think of her own mother Llyn, who would so love to be sitting here with her, but Cindy chose many years ago to end that relationship. I understand, yet its terribly sad, that there are no grandparents in her children’s lives, and this beautiful woman - technically an orphan - could do with a Father and a Mother in her life, and I wish we lived closer. We are here for just a little while, and we play our honorary roles as lovingly and as responsibly as we can.
Earlier we had offered to take them out to dinner, but our niece is a generous and hospitable host, and insists we have plenty of food left over from last night, and we do. She serves up platters of food, its a feast, of lamb and salmon and salads and cheeses and fruit, there is plenty left over for the staff tomorrow. It’s another wonderful night of conversation with Cindy and Paul, and the Dylan and Ryan drop in too, we are learning more about each other, about her children and their lives, and its such a treat. Teighan is studying medicine, and as girls often are, is a very self sufficient young woman, with her head ‘screwed on’. The boys have been ‘the naughty ones’ Cindy says, but Paul insists they are ‘not naughty - just boys - that they need to make mistakes and fail’. It’s heartening to see the relationship he has with Cindy’s sons, he clearly loves her children, and Cindy too. Gerald says how proud Greg would be of them all, and Cindy becomes tearful, her Dad was Her Everything, and she misses him deeply, and is I think, incomplete with his loss. The next morning, I ask her to consider doing The Landmark Forum, and she protests that she is not unhappy. I do know that - clearly, she is a happy woman - but one can be happy and still incomplete - and incompletion will affect every other relationship in life, especially with a significant man.
Today has been an emotional one, filled with poignant moments and happy moments and revealing moments. I am so glad to be here. Bless you Cindy darling.