The time had been long past when people used to call her as Miss Tate, her father’s name. Gone also were the days of the gentleman who imparted his surname, Joseph, to her. She chuckled at the idea of an empty nest–as her church ladies community kept referring to–considering it irrelevant.
There was a time, she couldn’t exactly recall, when the future looked bright and they as newlywed planned childbirth and career progression while life decided to throw a random die and all plan went straight into the rubbish bin. Eva was born, then Gregory followed. Then, before they knew it, the children were of school age. Then, the PTA meetings. And then, and then, and then. . .
By the time they were at high schools, slowly adjusting to the young adult life and taking more independence given by their parents, Charles was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Life went on, the children went to college, maybe one day they would be married, but that’s it. Vicky was left alone, scraping the tiles and dusting old family photos. When did her Tate part end and the Joseph start?
“I should pursue a degree,” she said.
“Can’t you just have a short course?” her husband asked over a cup of his morning coffee. A ritual they had been doing forever, talking about important matters first thing in the morning instead of nights that would be spent with winding down.
Vicky did not have a proper answer for that. No. The course could help her with the basic things, but she would still need to know the whole fundamental science behind it.
Also, didn’t she miss university? People filtering in, set ablaze with curiosity and passion to dig more, always to study more as if they long for all the secrets of the universe piling on their shoulders?
She pondered long until her tea got cold.
“I spent four years studying accounting just so I could get a job easily despite no passion was involved,” she explained.
“So you’re saying you’re gonna study something solely for passion now?”
“For calling,” she smiled.
The easy conversation, played verbatim in her mind over the years, soon morphed into one prime afternoon.
“Would you be okay?” Charles Joseph asked in his deathbed, hands cold and eyes, oh bright eyes that once hosted the soul and promise to love her forever, dimmed.
“I will,” she replied without pausing to think. Because she knew she would.
“Vicky, I just want you to be okay without me.”
“Please, don’t say this, Charles. Please, we know–”
“I’ve buried my dreams since our life changed. But I want you to be happy. Run after them. Get them.”
The tension was thick enough to cut with a knife. Vicky only nodded.
“After I’m gone, be okay for yourself.”
And boy, did this exchange tear a wound in her heart. Did her husband just ask her to sail for the next voyage in education?
A few years after Charles Joseph had kicked the bucket and their two children busy moved on somewhere else in this country, Vicky came to understanding. Perhaps it was the time to pursue an old dream? She always wanted to have a master degree in writing, not particularly special if taking into account her ballet teaching job a few decades ago. She had always been attracted to art. While her mature body said no for further ballet classes, her mind always yearned for the spark of creativity and the internal fire flowing through her pen movement on paper.
“But what about the tech?” asked her friend at an afternoon tea.
“What tech?” she replied.
“Young people use fancy gadgets in their education, how can you be familiar with it?”
“Well, as far as it goes, we already used email before I resigned from my accounting position–”
“Yes, almost twenty years ago.”
The silence that ensued was only broken by a spoon clinking someone’s cup.
“There’s no need to fight for it, Vic. If writing is your favourite pastime, then, please, do so. But no point in taking formal classes to it.”
Vicky observed her reflection in a mirror. Oh, how time had gone far, leaving her in the solitude. Many nights she spent lying in bed awake. Mature age did not bode so well with deep sleep. She tried counting how many years had passed since the last time she slept uninterrupted for more than six hours. Maybe before she even married Charles, which was a quarter of a century ago. Or, perhaps, just ten years ago when their children could more or less manage on their own. But then the age caught up and the well-deserved sleep scampered from her grasp.
Could she now just be a Vicky and think? But wasn’t that what her life, conforming to and serving her family’s needs? Besides, she accepted Charles’ proposal out of love with full consent, and there was nothing in this world she would trade with the past few years of building and making a family. She loved and cherished every part of it.
At long nights, her arm searched the empty space next to her, feeling up the cold sheet and pillowcase. There was this thing called oblivion when she tried to churn what actually happened. Time went by, people continued on living and the world at large moved on, while she was stuck with old dreams and love of the past.
The past that haunted her with her own words spoken to a young ballerina she taught.
“One, two, three. . .,” she taught her class on earlier years of her marriage after quitting her job as an accountant.
“Ma’am, would you stop teaching us?”
“I’m terribly sorry, Felicia, but that’s something I’ve considered for so long now.”
“Tomorrow is your last day?”
Vicky nodded, adjusting the ribbon of her shoe.
“Is marriage going to be the parking brake?”
Vicky’s confused frown met Felicia’s gleaming green eyes.
“A place where you have to leave all your baggage behind,” her student continued.
The simplicity and the stark truth in the sentence started her. She never thought it this way, didn’t she?
But she pulled herself together and answered, “When you love someone enough, things like these don’t really matter. You think for two, or more. And what’s best for those in your family is the best for you.”
Now she wept, muffled by her pillow. She had been years out of practice and she didn’t miss teaching. But the carefully stacked pieces of paper holding her unpublished poems sneered at her as if saying that she could not run away.
“What is sharing a document?” she asked Gregory. Her youngest child might be more suitable for the question as he was just out of university a year ago.
“It’s an online platform to type and edit your document, but people can access it via internet, so you don’t have to send email to someone else.”
“But how. . . if it’s online then it’s not on my computer?”
Gregory spent the next ten minutes explaining to his mother how this sharing platform work, how it was integrated with her email service, and how it made his life in uni easier by never losing his important documents. Anytime he was connected, he could access his files and manage his progress.
“Okay. Apart from that, how much else do I need to know about the modern system?”
Gregory’s gentle laugh sounded from the other end. “I don’t even know how the education in your time worked.”
“Mum, please, as long as they still teach using English, I don’t think anything could block you from enrolling,” he gently added, then he said he had got to go for a job interview. Ah, yes, the young switched career easily these days.
Vicky was frightened. She did not know how the world worked now. Well, some parts were still her life, such as filing for tax, booking trips, or consuming the news.
But the world she had been lost touch for ages? The possibilities of unknown.
“Are the youth nowadays. . . gonna hate me?”
“If anything, Mum, they’ll like you. I think there is more awareness that ageism and ableism are not cool. Your friends will like you and they can learn a thing or two from you.”
“But I don’t even have something to contribute.”
“You’re the best mum in the world. You are a ballerina. Your feet may have healed from the bruises and scrapes that tainted them long ago. But would your soul stop dancing?”
And she stopped asking, hugging Eva silently. When they came back from the cemetery, the overall mood was lightened.
“I would teach ballet for the rest of my life. I want to see young ballerina gracing the world with their beautiful dance and energetic pace,” she told her mother once upon a time.
She no longer had a mother to extol her spirit about what to do in the next few years. She no longer felt the intense burning to dance. And everyone in her life moved on, only occasionally contacted her out of necessity and decorum. But she understood the simile her soul spoke long time ago. The passion for writing was always there. It never died. It waited. The small box containing her poem collections written during her youth had been waiting to be opened again.
She finally enrolled herself and was admitted. She counted her steps in her mind. One, two. First, second. It was like her first teaching session all over again. She tipped her chin outward to give the semblance of confidence. The fellow students would not be so cruel to point out her appearance, would they? I look more like their mother, she thought. But every disdainful piece of mind was quickly culled from her mind. It was time to trust, to learn something anew, and to have faith in the new generation.
When the class went down quiet on her first day of uni, she looked around and understood. These people were here to study with the same thirst for knowledge as she had. She saw glimmering eyes that once captivated her from the ballet students on their first day. Yes, there would be sprained ankles and numb arms much later, but enthusiasm always prevailed. Now, she was a student herself. And the high spirit of her fellow classmates oozing from their pores, the same contagious mood that now emanated from her, too. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
“Ms Vicky Joseph, nice to meet you,” a student sat next to her greeted her, his face plump and young, around the same age as Gregory. The lecturer expected the class to make round and introduce themselves. Considering there were only twenty of them, it should be a quick one.
“Hi,” she eyed his name tag, “Louis Jordan, nice to meet you.” They shook hands.
“So, according to this introductory programme, we’re supposed to team up for the upcoming presentation.”
“Oh, about that, I’m afraid my part will be disappointing.”
A frown formed on his forehead. “And why is that? It’s just a sharing about our individual motivation to pursue this degree.”
“You won’t want to have your first impression assignment to be paired up with an old lady’s thoughts,” she smiled to lift up the mood. That was her defence mechanism, wasn’t it? Masking it with cheerful tone to water down the creeping panic inside.
“I don’t see it that way,” he challenged.
But wasn’t it always this way if she recalled her teaching days? The young pupils always wanted to be paired up with the fellow girl who fit like a gymnast or the prettiest one. Nobody would want to perform in the quarterly dance event with the other girls who were not slim enough. She braced herself before entering this classroom for similar remarks.
“Writings mature as we age, don’t they? And you’re the best teammate for this assignment. I can’t wait to learn from you.”
She couldn’t quite pin down the relief that blossomed in her chest. Homework to do later to prove his hypothesis, she made a mental note.
And then she did. She wrapped up their presentation after Louis and her each had explained their motivation by taking turns. “We were taught that time would heal anything. But after losing my spouse, I learned that healing was not what time could do. Time does preserve. Memories, feelings. Until someday the trove is opened again. It’s always there.” Her eyes focused at a spot on the wall across her as if watching an invisible something. Something that whispered, “You’re gonna be okay.”
“There are always stories to be told to the world. And if you haven’t let them fly and touch hearts, they always come back to you waiting–preserved by time–to someday be ever finished.”
She knew she did it. She felt kindness and compassion radiating from her classmates. It was a right decision after all.