Wednesday 21 – Thursday 22 January 2015
‘An empty hallway is one of the saddest things you’ll ever see in your life.’ Mona closed her eyes as she remembered the last empty hallway that she had seen. The parquet was well worn from years of family and friends journeying in and out of Mona’s home. Anyone was welcome, at any time, and everyone took up Mona’s offer of hospitality.
‘Of course, nursing and retirement homes are also amongst the other saddest things you’ll see in your life.’ She glanced around at those less mobile and unable to independently move around the Heavenly Meadows nursing home. Mona was lucky. She was one of the few who could still get up and about, and escape the stench of death and dying that had seeped into the walls, furnishings, and fabrics of Heavenly Meadows.
Her daughter squirmed uncomfortably in the chair next to Mona, as she looked around at the elderly residents housed within the walls of that almost-coffin building.
‘What’s the matter, Clara? Suddenly realising what sort of a place you’ve signed me into?’ Mona’s voice held just a tiny morsel of malice. Heavenly Meadows was not where she had seen herself living out the remainder of her days.
‘Oh, don’t worry dear, I know me being in this place has more to do with Sergei than you.’ Mona allowed her eldest child a moment of reprieve from the guilt that she could clearly see in Clara’s eyes. ‘You just make sure that he doesn’t dismiss any decision that you have to make in the future.’
Interrupted by the arrival of a carer, Mona turned her attention to the young man who quietly stood to her right, waiting for a break in the conversation.
‘It’s alright, Carlos, I think we’ve come to a natural lull in our conversation.’ Mona smiled at the young man, bidding him to speak.
‘Can I get either of you ladies something to eat or drink? Morning tea is about to be served in the dining room, and I thought that you might prefer to take advantage of the fresh air, sun, and garden view instead of the drab walls of the dining room.’ He tipped backwards and forwards from his toes to his heels as he spoke.
‘Yes, thank you, Carlos. I think tea for both of us would be lovely,’ Mona replied.
‘Perhaps I could bring you both a selection of food as well?’ It was more of a question than any sort of statement.
‘Thank you, Carlos,’ she whispered, and the young man strode back into the building.
Mona and Clara sat in silence as they waited for the carer to return with whatever tasty morsels he could free from the tea trolley before the other residents clapped eyes on it. Mona inhaled as though it might be her last breath on earth; Clara avoided making eye contact with her mother. It was an awkward few minutes until Carlos made his return, and placed a tray containing two cups of tea, and two dinner plates of food on the small table between the women. He handed each woman her cup of tea, and quietly slipped away to tend to the other residents in the dining room.
Clara was quick to sip at the steaming tea, sidestepping conversation for a little longer. Mona bent towards the table to examine the food that Carlos had brought them. Sandwiches, slices, and cakes took their own places on the plates, some slightly touching the food around it, but none spilling over the rim. Mona selected a small piece of slice, and nibbled at the corner. She raised an eyebrow of approval, and then took a larger bite.
‘Not bad,’ she said after sipping her tea to wash down the bite of slice.
‘Mum, I –’ Clara started.
‘There’s no need to explain, Clara dear. We all pass our use by dates sometime. It’s inevitable, and I came to terms with it when your father left me. Of course, he had to come to terms with the same thing as he lay dying on the floor of that seedy hotel room, watching his whore make a hasty exit so that she didn’t get her hands dirty having to answer all the questions that her husband would have been sure to ask. That’s life, dear.’
Clara sipped at her tea again, not really sure how to respond to her mother’s blunt statements.
‘What I don’t understand though, is why Sergei was so adamant that I be . . . relocated to this place, instead of being allowed to live out my days in my own home, the home that I owned. Why was it so important that I had to leave, Clara? What did Sergei think he could get out of me or my home?’
Her daughter had no answers to Mona’s questions, and shrugged her shoulders, a pensive expression upon her face.
‘All of my memories, my life, children, friends, everything that was mine, taken from me by Sergei when he bundled me up and delivered me. I was happy at home, Clara. Comfortable. Secure. Safe. And now, all that I am is constantly lonely. Oh, don’t look at me like that, Clara. These people here, they’re shells of who they once were, and that’s exactly what will happen to me the longer I stay here. You downsized my home, my life . . . and now you’ll have to watch as Sergei’s actions downsize me . . . downsize my soul . . . ’