Two years ago, an old weatherboard house just behind ours got pulled down and in its place came up a big brand new modern sprawling house. It’s a familiar sight in Melbourne suburbs these days. The new occupants were a young couple with two toddlers moved in. I always wondered who these new occupants were but within time we got to know one another. They were a young family of Asian background. Jerry and John, young professionals, brought the property and built the house sealing it with the hope and aspirations common to young parents – of dreams unlimited and a life that would be fulfilling.

Both Jerry and John were very attentive to their garden and they took pains to manicure it despite having two demanding children and jobs. I often met Jerry outside and our conversations, among other things, always veered towards mint and other herbs that we tried growing in our respective veggie patches. You see, Asians love their greens. Over our small talks, I also came to know she worked in the city. We did plan we will one day organise a get together of all the new neighbours. But before that eventuated, Jerry called us home for tea one afternoon and it was a pleasure to know them even more. Their house, despite having two handful children, was spectacularly tidy. I marvelled at Jerry’s multi-tasking and also promised to have them over.

After that, I met Jerry in the city one day with her older colleague who I mistook for her mother. She had mentioned her mother would soon be visiting from Malaysia and silly me put two and two together. Given my gaffes, my husband often reminds me, ‘engage brains before opening the mouth.’ (Seems I haven’t learnt my lesson yet).  I remember being very embarrassed about it. That evening I exchanged a couple of texts with Jerry where I apologised profusely. Jerry was quick to pacify me. "It happens," she texted back.

Soon the busy routine of our lives took over. I had a major tragedy in my life (having lost my young and only nephew) and travelled a few times to India in a span of two years. While I did text Jerry once or twice telling her about my ordeal, I also became good at postponing our return tea invitation. At the back of my mind, that was a nagging thought, especially every time I crossed her house.
The months and then three years just went by. One afternoon, there was a knock on the door. It was the most unexpected visitor. Jerry’s husband John stood outside with a smile. I ushered him in and as soon as he sat down on the sofa, I asked ‘Where and how is Jerry’?  I was least prepared for his answer.

John looked surprised. ‘You didn’t know?’ he asked us. I didn't know what to think but ideas of divorce or separation ran amok in the head. “She passed away in September,” he said. We were already in July, almost 11 months since her death and I had no inkling. The saddest part about neighbourhoods in Melbourne is no one knows what is happening next door unlike India where continuous streams of visitors, or activities would indicate something. We lead such private lives.
It was the saddest piece of news that shook our quiet Saturday evening. The news wore heavy on us that weekend. Jerry had left this earth. A victim of bowel cancer, she was diagnosed very late in the stage and within three months of diagnosis the cancer ate into every part of her body including her lungs. She carried an oxygen tube during her last days.

I ask myself, how did I become so callous and busy in my own world that I did not even see Jerry once before she passed away. Eleven months is a long time but sometimes even in the monotonous pace of life, the time just slips by fast. Not having given Jerry even a moment of comfort in her trying times will always keep that portion of guilt alive in me.

It goes to show too that in the selfishness of our space we miss out on sharing some kindness and some company that could have meant a great deal to someone who did not have the luxury of time. What does it cost us to give some time to others? Nothing. Our nothing is something for the one who does not have the privilege of time. But the irony of life is that when we have time we become selfish.

John is slowly trying to pick up the threads of his life and give it a semblance of balance. He has to do it for his children. He has to do it for himself. I look at time and blame it for everything. Time is no one’s friend, it does not remind us what to do. It only slips by for us to look back and realise every minute and hour is precious in the face of this enormity called life. Sadly, it is only in hindsight that we reflect on loss of time. But most importantly, we have to make the time. I take back my blame on time, I blame myself. An evening tea with Jerry will never happen. That time is gone.

No comments:

Video Interviews