I have found myself in a different world.
I am an old woman, walking along the pavements with a wheelie walking frame. I am not what I thought I was. I am old.
You, reading this, might think it is sad. I want to show you.
The new delicatessen, opened today up the street, eight minutes walk, has a tray of baklava slices on the counter. I have a liking for baklava, oozing with honey and nuts. I don’t have to hurry, and it will be time for a cup of tea when I get home, which is going to be later than I think, but of no account. I buy a piece of the delectable pastry, and a packet of Arborio rice with dried porcini mushrooms. The salesgirl says it is delicious. She rolls her eyes and almost licks her lips.
When you are driving a car you see little but the road ahead, a bit like life when you are young. I remember pushing a pram, child after child, year after year, the surface of the pavement, the air around me, the beat of the sun, the puddles of rainwater on the pram-cover, the daisies, overgrown, pushing their wayward stems through the rickety fences as I passed. I remember the man, his garden an oasis of rich black soil, telling me how every time he went into the bush, into the rich eucalypt forests, he brought back a paper bag of mulch from the forest floor and tipped it on his garden. He told me had been doing it for twenty years.
There are new houses, mansions, in our neighbourhood. And a number of old ones, the cream-brick variety of the nineteen fifties, waiting to be knocked down and their space filled wall to wall with concrete. The old houses are often rented out, their venetian blinds awry, their front gardens a desert or an untrimmed tangle. They have patches of freesias poking up through the buffalo and couch grasses. Old untrimmed roses, and sprawls of geraniums. I have a small wire basket attached to my wheelie frame. I could bring a pair of scissors or secateurs one time when I am wandering. I walk very slowly, while I gaze. Daisies. Jasmine. Forsythia poking its one bright spray through a mass of dense hedge. No one would see.
A boy passes, fourteen or fifteen, going home from school, the beat of his earplugs throbbing. He keeps his eyes downcast as I glance.
A young woman is coming towards me, her hand hovering over a small blond-haired child, staggering with the triumph of his first steps, who smiles with that unalloyed glee of innocence, the first teeth erupting in the shell-pink mouth. I smile and say how wonderful it must be when you first can stand upright and walk. And still.
In the years after I learnt to drive the car, I was always going somewhere. Now I am there, in the passage of time.
Some of the houses have blinds down over their front windows, striped canvas, mostly faded green and cream, pulled down facing west, even in the winter. Some of the places have fences, walls, seven and eight feet high, impregnable. I search for cracks as I pass. It is always disappointing; there is a gap at the garage entrance, paved with flawless tiles, and a parked car on the lawn inside. I wonder why.
I am becoming one of those old women who talks to everyone. It is because I have no time to wait. If I want to know, I must ask now. I walk down the drive of a house because I can see lights on in the work-shed and there must be someone there, and he comes forward, wiping his hands on a paint-rag. I say, you don’t know me, and I am just being nosey, but your house is so fascinating I am wondering what its history is. And he is happy to talk. Perhaps I knew he would be.
If , as must have happened many times because I have lived in this neighbourhood for over sixty years, I had passed the house, driving the car, I would not have known.
The man tells me he bought the house thirty years ago, intending to knock it down and build several units, but when they came to live in it they fell in love with it, and they are still there. It is about one hundred and fifty years old. It was there when the whole area was market gardens. It has that totally unrenovated look, or at least like a work in progress, very slow progress. The frames of the – beautiful – windows are stripped of paint. The place is a dump, the wrought iron gate, rusted, painted over white, is held up by a piece of wire. He says, grinning, only weird people live here. My heart goes out. He says, when I die I am coming back to go on with the renovating, but perhaps you only have one life and you have to make the most of it. He says, I had a mate who died last year and he was only thirty-one. Think of it, Thirty-one. I say, I know, my eldest son died last year. He says, yes, you ought to come back when my wife is here, she loves talking to people, she works all day looking after your sort. He says, sorry , I don’t mean.
That’s what I mean. I am not what I thought I was. I am old.
But it is not sad.