The possibilities for retirement were endless, they said. How about a job in a real hospital? Somehow I couldn’t see any challenge in working in a western hospital where there was all the equipment I needed, electricity that didn’t qui, and my mouth wasn’t full of choking dust. It wouldn’t fill that void. It wouldn’t silence that voice that still ricocheted around in my mind.
I could travel, they said. Take a cruise maybe. Day after day of nothing to do but lie in the sun. That seemed like the most boring of futures. Nothing to do but hear that voice.
But I travelled for a while and saw a few cities I had wanted to visit. I spent time in Vienna, in Tokyo and I checked out the Grand Canyon. All very interesting for a few days. I even spent a couple of months in Iceland. It took me two years to stop finding excuses and come back to the Vancouver that was home for the first half of my life. It took me another six weeks to quieten the voice in my head a little and drive out here to my old house. I don’t know why it took so long – the place has been rented out since my ex-wife died. But here I am now looking at an overgrown garden and recognizing every far-too-large plant as an old friend.
Especially that Warm Welcome rose over by the front door. Whatever had possessed me to plant a Warm Welcome rose outside that cold house where the atmosphere froze me as soon as I entered? Was it a sign of hope to myself? There was never a welcome of any description.
I stop the car, then turn it around and pull over. I would so much like to have one of those copper-coloured roses. Against every instinct I get out of the car, open the gate and walk up the path. To quieten screaming nerve endings I try to think logically, reasonably, reminding myself that I have a right to be here because I still own the house. Somewhere in the periphery of my mind I wonder who the house has been rented to and whether there is any happiness in it now. I can see fresh paint so someone has kept the place neat. Yet they haven’t touched the garden.
I could just pick a rose or two and leave but maybe I ought to explain myself. I hesitate and the door opens. A child stands there. A perfect little girl, not missing a leg or with the protruding belly and stick legs of malnutrition.
For a moment all I can do is stare at the wholeness of her.
“Grandma says we’re not buying anything.”
I’m still staring at this perfect child with no wounds or scars. She starts to close the door.
“I came to ask if I could pick a rose.” It sounds ridiculous.
“I’ll have to find out.” She closes the door.
I’m shaken. I’ve seen lots of whole, healthy kids since I was in, where was it? I can’t remember now- somewhere in Africa. I’ve noticed boys and girls running on two legs, arms pumping, laughing, jumping, calling out. I’ve even stopped to watch them for a few minutes, just for the sheer pleasure of it. So why does the wholeness of this one child affect me so much?