I am interested in people. I don’t know why. I like to talk to people and know all about their lives, well if not everything, most things. And I can get engrossed in conversations for hours on end, even with perfect strangers. There is an inexplicable, odd satisfaction of having known someone in that short period. It gives me a peep into the many colours of life.
I have been in Melbourne for nearly two years now and it is a place quite conducive for talking, much to my surprise. People smile at you all the time for sure, but yes they like to have conversations too. Back in India, it was extremely easy to strike up a conversation with just about anyone without being apologetic about intrusion. But then in India nobody apologises.
Of late, I have been bumping into my neighbour Marie quite often. She is in her seventies, white haired, thick whiskers (sorry for the vivid description but people obviously don’t care much about waxing at this age) and is pretty slim. She lives a few houses away and tends to her lovely garden every time the sun comes out. It is winters now but we have both the rain and the sun.
Of course, I am not Marie’s exceptional friend. She smiles at everyone who passes but I love to stop for a five minutes tete-a-tete before I carry on. I have to pass her house to go to the market. Like most Australians, she always says a “Lovely day, isn’t it?” on days that are sunny and, “It’s not too good today,” on cold, cloudy days.
I first met Marie at the Indian grocery store and was chatting up with the Tamil woman who runs the shop. Suddenly I found Marie standing next to me. She had ordered samosas and was asked to wait, but she had forgotten her order. She turned to me and asked, “Am I supposed to wait?” I said yes and that she had ordered some food. “Oh dear, I forget.” But then we all do sometimes.
A few days later Marie was with my neighbour Lynne and they were having a conversation. Lynne told me they were both in the same suburb many years back but Marie has forgotten it all. And I reconnected how she had forgotten the samosas that day. Like most elderly, she probably suffers from dementia but that has of course not impacted on her social skills as we have perfectly nice talks on life.
My conversations with Marie are mostly about her past. And that to me is the most interesting part. She tells of a creek that used to run near my current house when she was a kid and how a bridge over the creek was brought down when they began building the roads. I imagined a greener suburb than now. The butcher’s shop, she says, has been replaced with the milk and bar shop now.
“My husband died a few years back, we had a good life,” she tells me in each conversation. But now she has her poodle, her little dog for company. “She is inside and waiting for me.” Marie has no children, she has a sister and a brother who lives in a different state. When they were young, Marie says she made tea for the family and then studied the rest of the time. But now her sister, who never married, lives in the big family home.
I find her waiting for her sister many days. “She called a while back but has not come,” she tells me. I got bold once and told her why she does not live with her sister (that to me would make life so less lonely) but she replied it was good to have one’s space.
I meet Marie practically every other day and I ask her, “Do you remember me?” She replies coyly, “No”.