Aunt Olivia looks forward to the arrival of the community carer Lara who comes three times a week to help her with the shower and other little things she can’t do herself after her hip operation.
Twenty-three years old Lara is the only human connection Aunt Olivia has left with anyone other than her two nieces who take turns in dropping food. Their trips are short, conversation to the point and often loaded with instructions on how long to heat the food and what to do in case there is an emergency. It is Lara with whom Aunt Olivia gets to have a chat she so much needs.
‘While you are here would you mind rubbing some cream on my legs? They are prickly like cactus.’ Lara, a second-year nursing student, who works as a carer on the side, obliges.
‘Tell me how that boyfriend of yours is going?’ Olivia asks enjoying Lara’s young finger massage her wrinkly skin.
‘He is doing fine. These days he is helping his dad repair their house in Braidwood. I hardly see him.’
‘Not good dear, not good. You two ought to get married by now.’
Lara smiles. Each week, at least once, the conversation goes in the direction of marriage. It seems that when old people have nothing left in their own lives, they start meddling with others.
But Lara doesn’t mind Aunt Olivia prying. She has a way about her that was nudging but not intruding. That is perhaps the reason why she is an aunt to everyone.
‘We have talked about this before, Aunt Olivia. We are too young to get married. Besides both, Alex and I do not have regular income yet.’
‘Too young,’ scolds Aunt Olivia, ‘how old you want to be when you have children. Thirty-five. Goodness golly! You two have been living together for five years. Didn’t you say that to me?’
‘Yes.’ Lara wipes the extra oil from Olivia’s legs with a towel and pulls the pyjama down. ‘But none of my friends is married yet. Neither is his. Besides what marriage has to do with having children?’
It takes Olivia a few moments to comprehend that piece of information. Then she responds with a sigh ‘You might be right dear. What marriage has to do with having children?’
Then in a lower tone adds, ‘In my days — everything. Having children outside of marriage was enough to ruin not only mother’s life but that of the child’s as well.’
She walks slowly with the help of a walking frame to the living room where Lara helps her to settle in her favorite couch.
Olivia asks Lara to hand her a decorated brown wooden box from the dresser. It has a pile of old photographs. Slowly she reaches to the bottom of the box to pull out an envelope with a black and white photo of a young man. She looks at the photo with affection before handing it to Lara. A tall young man in casual pants and checker jumper is staring at the camera half leaning against a wall. He has an air of carefreeness about him.
‘I left marrying to him too late. I wasn’t sure. I thought we were too young. He went to war. Before leaving he came one last time. He wanted to go to the war as a married man. But I wasn’t so sure. He never came back.’
The photo has turned pale with time. Its edges have worn out with constant handling. Lara stares at the photo for a while. The young man in it looks very familiar. As if she has met him somewhere but couldn’t recall where.
‘Did he die in the war?’ she asks knowing Aunt Olivia was not married.
‘He went missing. I kept waiting that one day, he will come back.’
‘You didn’t find anyone else?’
‘I got too old.’ Aunt Olivia lets out a laugh. ‘First I was too young and then I was too old. Some came forward, but I was looking for him in them. Obviously, there was no one like him.’
Lara looks up and Aunt Olivia holds her gaze. ‘There is an age to get married. My mother used to say and I didn’t listen to her. She said that if you miss that age, marriage has no charm.’
Lara nods and gets up to leave, the photo still in her hand. She asks Aunt Olivia if she can borrow it.
Aunt Olivia gives her consent with her eyes closed. Suddenly she is too tired, either from all the effort she has put in this morning or from the flood of memories.
Two days later Aunt Olivia hears a knock at the door. It is not her day for a shower and her younger niece has brought the food for the week already. Who can it be?Before she can shuffle to the door, the key turns and the door opens. Lara walks in followed by a young man.
‘Aunt Olivia, I would like you to meet my boyfriend, Alex.’
There is no mistake in the resemblance. The face, the eyes, the shape of the jaw, even the color of the hair is the same. Only that her John was a bit fairer. This young man is darker, perhaps from working in the sun. Aunt Olivia runs her hand on his face with tears clouding her eyes. While Olivia is inspecting Alex, Lara goes out to help someone else come through the door.
‘Aunt Olivia, this is Alex’s father.’ I drove to Braidwood yesterday to bring him here.’
Stands before her, a man slightly older than her. He is still tall. His shoulders still broad. His skin still fair. The face which is forever young in her memory in fact has aged. But it is still the same face. They don’t know how long they stand there looking at each other, not believing what they were seeing, unaware of the presence of others. Then Aunt Olivia breaks the silence.
‘I waited for you.’ She says.
‘Do you think you are ready now?’ John asks.
That week minister performs two weddings, one in the church and one in Aunt Olivia’s living room.
© Neera Mahajan July 2014