As I walked up the road for the papers, the sky
was a sort of washed out beech leaf gold and as I came back it was quite definitely rosy. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning – the weather is changeable, and I am ungratefully sick of the rain – but thinking about Wal organising the commissariat made me smile to myself. We are both crazy about roast chicken and Wal said he had found the best. So he brought it, and two breasts of guinea fowl to go in the freezer, half a celeriac and two boxes of Tesco’s finest water softening tablets.
I have not had deliveries of groceries
for the simple reason that I have no reason not to shop. I buy as I need and I recoil from this “everything being done from home” idea when it isn’t necessary. I understand e very effort being made to control the spread of the virus but there is only one of me. I go out every other day. I rarely go to more than one shop and I come home. That is exercise, socialising, variation, air. Pam the Painter walks, she’s nearer to open country, but to walk I would have the share the park with entirely too many people, so I do it this way. Two birds, as they say.
And then I saw her as I was walking home, a tiny skinny woman and I went past her – I am not proud of this – thinking no, no, go home – and realised she had no shoes on,
only stocking feet. And that she was dressed in those gaudy unsuitable clothes that people buy because they’re cheap and cheerful, almost mocking, all wrong for whoever they are given to. And her hair was untidy and her face was lined. And she was not in this world. So I watched.
Not another person came down the street, but she was looking for something, the familiar shape of a letter or a figure on a gate, so I watched her up the street, afraid to disturb the concentration of fingering some remembered thing that might get her home and out of the cold. And I saw her go into a house, she had a key.
And I thought of Ruth Coker Burks’ book All The Young Men (just out),
about a woman who went to visit a friend in hospital and saw an early AIDS patient dying alone – it didn’t get any better – and – unsung and unchampioned – went and saw him out, and many others like him. And campaigned for better education to combat hate and prejudice and fear.
When I was young I bought A Bright Shining Lie, Neil Sheehan’s book on America In Vietnam, and I have never been without it since. It feels like a breast plate, waiting for me on the shelf. Neil Sheehan was the New York Times reporter who appropriated the so called Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg. Sheean died last week, God rest him, and there is no point in remembering war if you’re not going to learn something from it.
And there are all kinds of war.
A teacher friend of mine (I’ll call him Manny) isn’t really a teacher, he is a teaching assistant to children with emotional and learning difficulties, a career he came to late, almost like a second life. His family didn’t like him and were appalled by his homosexuality. He disliked himself and was unhappy for many years till he’d worked it through to the point that he could be Manny. We met at a bus stop several years ago when he had just begun his job with the children.
He worked with one very isolated little boy who didn’t speak but who came up and walked with him when he was on dinner duty, and held his finger for 10 minutes at a time, no glance, no word. One day, there was a sudden smile. Then, weeks later, the child left his side halfway through the lunch hour and joined in a game. And Manny was told to write a report, it represented such a breakthrough. I love that story, I can see that smile on the back of my eyelids.
Your last sentence struck home with me. So vivid.