I have a neighbour here who must be around seventy years old. Or older, I don’t know. She moved in several years ago, with her sister and her ancient father; the father died soon after. The sister died a few years ago. My neighbour lives alone now, one door down the hall from us. She never married because her father was sick and she knows barely anyone here but us and one cousin. There’s a friend who used to visit pretty regularly, but they had a falling out of sorts, I think, and I haven’t seen her since.
She’s moving away soon; going to stay with some relatives at Ville Parle. So when we went over today to give her sweets and say Happy Diwali, we sat with her and listened for a long time and she talked. About how it was when she was young and about growing up in Bandra and going for dances after midnight mass and last shows at the movies and dinner and drinks. She told us about how she hates Thane, about how it’s so hard to just get out of the house to go buy underwear. She told us about her only two ambitions – to go to Velankanni and Israel. Velankanni happened a few years back, after her sister died. She told us she was worried that the travel would be too much, what with long bus rides and her diabetes and the Indian toilets along the way. But someone who met her was touched by how much she wanted to go, and helped arrange things. My neighbour went to Velankanni, and she went by plane. She told us she never had to use the Indian toilet and that she cried when she got to the church and saw Mother Mary, and she’s sure she only managed to go there and see her because that was what God Himself had in mind for her. She told us that she really wants to go to Israel, but that it’s probably too late and she’s probably too old and she said that it’s okay, because we all have to die someday and she’ll be happy to go when the time comes. She’ll have a lot to do in Ville Parle anyway and she’ll go shopping in Bandra all the time. She said that maybe we’d bump into her on Hill Road someday and it will be nice because she’ll miss us.
It’s hard to know what to think when you meet such people, Zonk. Imagine giving up a whole portion of your life because someone needs you to be there for them instead. Imagine being old and alone and ill. Imagine how it would be to live that way, and then tell me how it is that some people always bear up and sail through. My neighbour always smiles at us and talks to us when we have the time. When we go over to get the spare key she always tells us that we’re looking pretty and she asks us how we’re doing at our jobs. She tells me that she’s always liked me best because long ago, when she was locked out of her house and I was small and really skinny, I tried to slip my hand in through the gap between the doorframe and her door and jimmy it open. She tells my sister that she is beautiful and she shouldn’t settle for a man any less beautiful than her, and that marriage can wait till she finds the perfect person. She tells us that things will work out well for us, that good things happen to good people and that God will always Be There.
I’m 22 and I don’t believe in a benevolent God. I hate most things about most things and it takes me a lot of whining and sifting through the debris to find something nice to think about them. I crib about pretty much everything and have mood swings and blue spells and waste a lot of my spare time brooding and grumbling about how the world is a dismal place and god is dead and existence is pointless. I wonder what will become of me if ever I’m seventy. Ill, old and overwhelmingly, irreparably alone.
I suppose it’s easy to lose focus once in a while.. It’s easy to forget just how much we take for granted. And sometimes all it takes to put things in perspective is a lonely old lady just waiting to die. And what really gets me is how satisfied she is in the meanwhile, how enthusiastic she is about going back to Bandra, and how excited she is about her plans. It blows my mind when she tells us that she’s always wanted to drive. Just so you know, she’s still really interested, and she’s been observing taxi drivers and trying to figure it out for herself a bit. She even demonstrated a little today with an imaginary steering wheel and asked us if she’d gotten it right.
We told her that she has.
Happy Diwali, Ms. Noreen Pereira. I hope I learn to drive like you someday. Not cars necassarily, but in general. In life. You are an awesome lady and you completely blow my mind.