It getting somewhat late into the night, the mind gets to reflecting on some obscure things. The weirdness of these past events being overshadowed by the welcome reality of Richard Flanagan winning the Man Booker Prize with his love story extrapolated from his father’s trials on the Burma Railway. It makes one think of things.
I was intrigued reading Richard Flanagan’s account of him being “a Burma Railway child”…where the memories of his father were kind of imprinted into his young mind…but it took the adult mind to understand the constructed sense of what actually happened and to piece together the emotions resulting from that re-creation and then to work the memories into the structure of a book.
Such things happen to us as children that , at the moment of happening, they are almost incomprehensible to the child’s rationale…having no experience of what brought about those events….The child can live with the mystery for years till an adult “awakening” throws light on the event and all is revealed…”Ohh!…so that was why it happened?…I see it so clearly now!”..that sort of thing.
Such a “moment” happened to me when I was about ten years old.My mother was expecting my younger brother, her fifth child…there had been two miscarriages between us ( I didn’t know that then, of course ) and there was some health issues…so to give her a rest, I was packed off in the summer holidays to her sister’s place up here in the nearby town where I now live…My mother had two sisters living here and I was juggled between the two…they had children of their own to manage…
I must’ve got bored or something, or they got sick of me moping about so they arranged for the local general storekeeper to give me a job sweeping the floors and stacking the shelves and what-not for a couple of days a week…His first name was Kurt ..or “Mr. Kurt” to me…children were expected to be polite to their elders those days. I remember being attracted to those little bottles of colouring and flavouring…”Anchor” brand, if I recall…I liked the tiny “clinking” sound they made when I straightened them up at the end of the day ( I still linger at those little bottles in the supermarket these days! )…I would sweep the dry floorboards in that old big store, with one long counter that Mr. Kurt would invariably stand behind wearing his white apron..there were a few aisles with dry goods products on them…
I was sweeping up one warm Friday afternoon , near the end of the shelves by the counter..Mr Kurt was behind the counter chatting to a woman who was holding the handle of a pram with a baby in it they had their backs to the pram….I had to stop sweeping as a young woman paused to take a can of fruit off the shelf there ..she put it in her string bag…there was also a box of “Rinso” in there…I think I can recall the string bag was green…I had a good long look at the young woman, because she was obviously pregnant, and her slow “undecided” movements seemed somewhat distant and strange….she then turned toward the counter..she paused looking intently at the pram…she then slowly, quietly moved toward it…there followed a rather strange moment..
It was more than two decades later that I became enlightened as to the importance of that moment in the store when I was but a young boy…It seems the young woman of that moment (we’ll call her Janet Green..the lady in question died last year and her family are still in the area), had ten months or so before, a baby of her own ..a little boy..It was (so I was told by my aunt) the joy of her life…she showed it to every body in the town..as proud as punch, she was…but after a couple of months, she became concerned there was something wrong with the child…she took it to the doctor time and again..he said because it was her first baby, she just was getting used to it..but she disagreed, so he sent her to the hospital ..and they told her the same..there was nothing wrong with the child and sent her back home….well..the baby died one day not long after…she was devastated..to the point of shock and withdrew into herself..evidently she didn’t shed a tear at the funeral..she even had to be helped to throw a sprinkle of dirt onto the tiny coffin.. the shock the locals said..the shock…
About six months after the loss of her child, she appeared about town looking perked up and happier…it was because she was “expecting” you see…she told everyone she was expecting ..and it would be a boy come the new year…everyone congratulated her and gave her the benefit of the doubt on the gender..after all?… But it wasn’t true..it wasn’t true, and the swelling belly was really a pillow she had put there under her dress…but she kept saying she was expecting a little boy in the new year..The town folk silently wept for her, but couldn’t come at correcting her..the shock , they said…and so on it went..till that one quiet, warm afternoon when I was sweeping the dry floorboards there in the store.
The young woman, Janet Green…slowly walked over to the pram..I thought she was going to look into the pram at the newborn baby, but she instead stopped at the back of the pram and gently took a clean, folded, soft nappy off the top of a stack there in a pouch at the back of the pram…she just stood there with her string bag still hooked in the crook of her arm with the nappy held between her hands and then pressed it to her cheek with one hand , then with both hands, she pressed the nappy softly onto her face, as if to feel into the depth of that soft-cloth….Mr. Kurt happened to see her out of the corner of his eye..he touched the mother gently so as not to alarm her…and as she turned, I could see Janet Green give these silent heaving sobs…her mouth agape but not a sound, just these huge, heaving, gulping sobs…Mr. Kurt came quickly around the counter and took her in his arms and she held him with her arms around him, her fists closing and unclosing and she was gasping ; “Kurt, oh Kurt, oh Kurt”..like she was trying to say how much it hurt and I was behind them , still with my broom and I could see this big tear roll down her cheek and drop to his shoulder and run down the silky back-cloth of his vest and then stop and stay there and glow, like a little shining jewel in the middle of his back..
It was , as I said ..many years before I was told the full story of that young woman…There are many stories in this area that are so poignant.….I’ll tell you about them some day!