The way we were

Submitted into Contest #101 in response to: Write a story in which the same line recurs three times.... view prompt

2 comments

Fiction Friendship Sad

"Golden Years is seeking volunteers who can spend one hour a week or fortnight to join a Community Visitors Project. Volunteers can make a difference in people's lives by visiting isolated and lonely people in an Aged Care Home. Are you interested? Contact us through our website, www. goldenyears.gmail.com."

Sekai first saw the advert in a monthly newspaper in the local library and initially took little notice of it. She had heard about the Golden Years Aged Care Home at school in the Interact Club. Her classmates had, however, decided against supporting the initiative. It didn't sound like fun. Instead, the group opted to organise far more exciting joint outings with a neighbouring boys' school where infatuations and fatal attractions could blossom during their brief encounters. 

At school year-end, Sekai realised her long-planned gap year trip to Europe was now a damp squib to be shelved because of the pandemic. News about stranded families, new border restrictions, her fear of running out of money while away did not auger well for foreign travel. She now had time on her hands, and the advert got her thinking.

After applying, the interview was perfunctory since the home's supervisor, Mrs Matanda, seemed relieved that someone had answered the advert. Sekai agreed on a work schedule, and on the first day, one hour was set aside for informal training and paperwork. As they toured the clean facility, Sekai wondered whether she would be out of her depth.

"Besides medical care, the residents desperately need mental stimulation, and I hope your visits will be exactly what the doctor ordered," said the supervisor. "Although I am impressed by your academic record, I'm far more interested in your outgoing personality and past interactions with people who are a generation or two older than yourself. I'm sure you will be a great hit and form great friendships, especially since you will be meeting the same resident every week and hopefully build lasting relationships."

A week later, Sekai met Gladys near the rose garden where she had been placed in her wheelchair under a shady jacaranda tree by a nurse who introduced the two of them and then quietly left for other assigned duties. Gladys, a nursing home resident for three years, was a regal lady in her late sixties with silver-grey hair, stylishly cropped. Her pencilled in eyebrows round deep brown eyes gave an impression of a startled doll. Her wrinkled well-manicured hands covered with age spots belied the fact that some work had been done on her smooth skin stretched across sharp cheekbones. Her twin cardigan and matching sky blue skirt looked expensive, like her accessories.

Gladys had been admitted to the home following her neighbours' report on the lack of activity from her house. Neighbours knew her as having a daily routine when she would stroll to the nearest grocery store every morning to collect her daily carton of milk and biscuits for her rescue dog Patches. She wasn't a great conversationalist, but at least she would give the nod or her royal wave to anyone who crossed her path.

"You aren't my daughter. Who are you?"

"I'm Sekai. I just started today and will spend an hour every week for as long as you want me to. We can talk about anything and everything so that we get to know each other."

"Why would I want to do that?" said Gladys.

"I am here to be your weekly companion, and we can do whatever you like during our hour together."

"I haven't seen my daughter since I arrived here."

"Tell me about her. You sound as if you are quite close."

"We can't have been that close if she hasn't been to see me. Do you play bridge? Canasta? Are you a good card player?"

"I'm sorry, I'm not very good at any card games.  I can read to you if you have a favourite author. Or how about me taking you around the garden, seeing what's in bloom. I'm not very good with flowers' names either, but I love them, and you can teach me."

"At least we have something in common. Let's see what that man who calls himself a landscape gardener has planted."

Sekai pushed the wheelchair around the vast estate, and occasionally they would sit on a bench and admire herbaceous and perennial borders, the fruit trees in bloom and the manicured lawns. Gladys would ask Sekai to stop now and again to admire the view, and in those moments, Gladys became less cantankerous. Sekai began to sense that she was a lonely woman underneath her prickly exterior.

"I haven't seen my daughter since I arrived here."

"Yes, you mentioned that earlier. She must be busy and will probably make time one weekend to come and see you. Do you have any other children?"

"No, she's the only one."

Sekai, sensitive to the silence, carried on pushing the wheelchair after glancing at her phone. It was already nearly midday. She tried to envisage Gladys being brought to the institution, moving away from her home and losing her independence after living alone for so long. Gladys had been a keen gardener, and sharing her knowledge with Sekai helped her regain her sense of purpose and lost independence.

As they approached the hour, Gladys turned again and stared intently at Sekai.

"You are not Phylis. "I haven't seen my daughter since I arrived here."

"No, my name is Sekai. I'd love to hear about Phylis, your daughter."

"She's about the same age as you. She is very fashion conscious. Takes after her mother!" said Gladys with a broad smile. "She works in the city. I can't remember what as—one of those who have sacrificed family life for her career. I keep telling her that she needs to settle down. Her excuse is that there is no room in her life for a meaningful relationship. Let alone children. The things youngsters say! I managed to raise her single-handed and have a career and never had a problem. She's going to live to regret it in her old age, this business of fulfilling herself through her work! By the way, I never asked you why you would want to spend your time with a grumpy old woman like me? Don't you have a young man or plans for your future?"

Sekai told Gladys about the botched gap year plans and reasons for volunteering. SEKAI mentioned she would study gerontology, motivated by the loss of her grandmother to dementia. It had been a traumatic experience for the whole family, and Sekai wanted to help others suffering from the same fate.

"All very noble," said Gladys, "But you do know that dementia has no cure?"

"I hope that there will be a cure in my lifetime, but we can't give up. It's a cause that's close to my heart. I also want to meet people, and I have extra time on my hands. People like you with lived experiences can teach me a lot. It's better than sitting around being unproductive."

Gladys ended the conversation abruptly. "I think your time is up. See you next week."

As Sekai passed the reception area, she bumped into Mrs Matanda, overseeing the changeover for the afternoon shift.

"Day two over! How did it go? I heard you spent the hour with Gladys."

Sekai shared snippets of the conversation and concluded, "She took some time to warm up to me, but I think we can become friends. Is there anything we can do to persuade her daughter to visit? Gladys seems to be pining for her. They must be very close."

"Her daughter?"

"Yes, called Phylis. I understand she works in the city. Sounds very successful."

"I'm afraid Gladys sometimes lapses into that world. We hope that as she increasingly comes out of her shell and talks with you and others, the condition will improve without medication.  There are no guarantees. There is no Phylis, at least according to our records."

"But she talked extensively about Phylis, who moved away from home and lives in a flat in the next town to where Gladys lives. She went into graphic detail about her daughter’s life."

"Look, as far as we know, before Gladys came to the home, she lived alone and had a fall in her kitchen, resulting in a serious concussion. She stayed in the hospital for a few weeks, and one of the side effects was short term memory loss. According to her medical records, she was already developing onset dementia before the fall. So I can understand her confusion. No, there's no Phylis. Perhaps it's someone in her past. But we’ve never heard of her."

July 06, 2021 04:57

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

2 comments

Quincy Telus
13:14 Jul 16, 2021

A nice twist at the end of this one. Definitely would work to hook me in if this was the start of a novel!

Reply

Nk Hatendi
03:39 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you for your encouraging comments.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply