Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fleeting









Steam is rising from the poo that Milly has just laid in the Parc de Trembly. Autumn is now well and truly here with the tiniest hint of snow on the distant Jura mountains and dew drops like diamonds on my dog’s nose. She’s already scurried off to sniff for squirrels as I bend down with the obligatory black bag and pick up her produce. I can feel the warmth in my hand before it gets flung into the bin.

I’ve just sent off two girls to school this morning. My own: dear Sapphire, still suffering from a cold and asking if I’d drive them there ‘because it’s windy.’ She knew the answer before I needed to say it and grinned. “It’s always worth a try, Mum.”

And Nafeesa: on her first sleepover ever if you don’t count school camps.

She rang Sapphire two days ago. “My Mum has had a stroke. Can I stay with you?”

Sapph was home with me, sick with a cold, still in her dressing gown when she rushed out onto the balcony where I was sipping coffee. “Can she stay?” I nodded, getting up to find out more. Sapphire was already striding towards her bedroom, the annoyances of a sore throat and raw nose forgotten. “We must help and I know where you keep the guest sheets and towels....”

Nafeesa’s mother, Yasmin, rang her friend at midnight. The words were all clear but jumbled into nonsensical sentences. John thought it was a joke until there was silence for a while and she moaned, “Help me.”

He rushed over to her house, arranged an ambulance, woke up a frightened Nafeesa and spent the day at her hospital bed, telephoning everyone whose name he recognised on Yasmin’s blackberry.

Nafeesa’s father died of cancer six years earlier and their family are scattered outwards from Lebanon, Netherlands, UK and Brazil. As an only child, poor Nafeesa must have felt so alone, so tiny and helpless as doctors bustled around her mother, now paralysed down one side and unable to speak.

A friend was contacted and arranged to move into Yasmin’s house and take Nafeesa to school every day. “That’s when I rang you,” she told Sapphire later. “I knew that I wanted to stay with you.”

And so she is. She and I travelled in the rain to the hospital yesterday, passing through a dozen smoking nurses up towards the intensive care unit. The ward also held five men, all several decades older than Yasmin.

This proud and beautiful woman who I’ve always envied for her style and youthful looks banged her left hand – encumbered by several wires and catheters - against the metal bed rail when she saw her daughter. Nafeesa buried her head into her mother’s chest, whispering I love you I love you I love you over and over. Yasmin’s eyes filled with tears and she cried. It wasn’t a sniffle or a sob but a loud wail that made all of us – the nurse, the best friend, the work colleague visiting during lunch hour, Nafeesa and me, look down, unsure of what we could do to help.

I dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, awkwardly. As nominated guardian I was required to be there - if only to transport her child to the bedside - but my relationship was with Nafeesa who I saw often, whereas Yasmin and I mostly traded pleasantries during drop offs and pick-ups. With one side of her face dragging downwards and puffy eyes without their customary eyeliner I felt as though I was intruding, seeing her at her most vulnerable.

Patting her hand gently, I explained that Nafeesa was staying with us for as long as was needed and that she wasn’t to worry. As I pulled back to leave and sit outside to wait for Nafeesa, Yasmin grabbed my hand. She tried several times to tell me something but the words were incoherent and each one took a lot of effort to produce. Her eyes blazed and it was clear that being trapped inside a currently-useless body was isolating and frustrating.

It was one of those key moments in life when you know that you need to – must do – say the right thing and yet, as a self-deluded writer, nothing emerged but a faint “It’s okay, it’s okay. You have such a lovely daughter and we feel honoured to have her. It’s okay.” Her fingers clanged the three gold bangles along my arm in response. The eyes glittered: the message was understood.

I left Nafeesa with her mother and stepped outside to speak with Yasmin’s best friend, an AIDS specialist from the World Health Org. “She’ll be here for weeks and then....” she put her hands to her lips, as if to stop them from saying the next few words, “......it could be months. And months.”

We’d only met each other fifteen minutes beforehand but found ourselves hugging each other. This was the woman who emailed all the key players involved in Nafeesa’s care – who was dropping off, who was picking up and who was hosting her where and when; even during the upcoming week of mid-term break when Sapph and I were heading off to Basel. She also provided a list of emails and contact numbers and the evenings since have been full of conversations between people I’ve not yet met as we discuss some very intimate and important subjects.

And Nafeesa......? She’s a painfully skinny kid who barely eats anything beyond chicken nuggets and spaghetti adorned only with grated cheese. We’ve cuddled a few times and Milly has done her utmost to trot over and lean up against her legs, offering her own furry version of comfort. LC has been away at a conference in Germany, kept updated with SMS messages from Sapphire and on his return last night did the manly thing of repairing the sagging blow up mattress. Nafeesa knows that her mother will recover and the relief is evident. She sleeps on the now acceptably air-filled bed on the floor in Sapphire’s room and they both whisper and giggle into the wee hours.

Sapphire has come into her own. Helpful, funny and good at finding things for them to do after dinner. She’s very tired and not happy that Nafeesa will take Friday off school so that I can take her to meet her uncle at the airport while she sits in beginner French class. However this is just a momentary huff as she's quickly accepting and showing a maturity mixed with a wicked sense of twelve-year-old humour that is just what her friend needs. I’m in awe.

I lay in bed with LC last night, telling him all this. He reached out his arm to provide what he thought was a comforting pat to my shoulder but in the darkness it ended up as a vague grope of my chest and then a slight whack to my nose as he withdrew. “Gee thanks for that love – I knew that there was something I needed – a fondle and a punch!” We laughed louder and longer than was really necessary.

And so I find myself earlier this morning holding a still-warm bag of dog poo while the beast who made it is in the wet grass, front paw lifted as she freezes for a moment, locks in a new scent and runs in a different direction.

It’s hard not to smile at these tiny observations and yet at the same time realise how fleeting they are. Life is so damn short and can alter in an instant. I run to catch up with her and kiss her nose, even though it’s wet with dew drops and has a stray blade of grass plastered on it.


26 comments:

Pandora Behr said...

Sitting here with tears in my eyes. So very, very thankful that the universe has put N. in your family's care. You all will thrive in this awful time. Sending healing to you all. You're all wonderful xxx

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Pandora. She was taken to the hospital (by someone else on the 'roster') and just arrived home now. "I fed my Mum some sloppy food!" - quite an improvement from the past few days.....

The Elephant's Child said...

What a truly wonderful friend you and all your family are. I have just left River's place and you so deserve the friendly blogger award. Sending good wishes for you all.

The Elephant's Child said...

When I say sending good wishes to you all, I mean, of coursr, both affected families.

Andrew said...

That's rough for a teenager to go through. She is lucky to have you and Sapph. Is that the first close up photo of Milly? What a handsome dog.

Jilly said...

I don't know what to say - I have tears streaming down my face. Both of them will need you so much. Maybe this is why you happened to be sent to Geneva? My heart goes out to mother and daughter - I will never forget looking at my kids scared little faces after my accident, and it still makes me cry (and Will still can't talk about it). xxx

franzy said...

Good on yer, Sapph.


Kath, I know this is completely off-topic, but ... have you picked up a new camera? Or have you been practising your madskillz? Those two photos are excellent - composition, light. I admire them very much and I'm desperately trying not to fall into the idle trap of justifying an SLR or at least a compact with a 35mm lens ...

Tell me you've just practising!

Cat J B said...

Kath, she's so lucky to have you and Sapphire in her court, what an awful thing for a youngster to go through. We all need a wonderful friend or two, maybe it's karma that your family are where they are right now. Best wishes to all.

And I must echo Franzy on the photography...

Jayne said...

You were sent to Geneva by The Universe (Mother Nature, a Higher Power, whatever) to be there for that child and her mother.
And for Sapphire to dazzle you with her hidden strength :)

tracy said...

Poor little girl, and poor mama.

Life. Sometimes it seems to ask so much of people.

Kath Lockett said...

Off to hospital in about an hour - felt terrible rousing Nafeesa out of bed - she looked so tiny and so tired in there....

As for the photos, they were taken with my ancient Canon digital from 2001 - a brick of a thing that sometimes refuses to open or work. Trouble is, it's still a lot more convenient to carry on a walk with Milly than my SLR, esp when bending down to tie up poo bags whilst holding a lead are involved.

Vanessa said...

How frightening for a young girl. I have learnt over the past 12 months that life is definitley too short.
Nafeesa is lucky to have such a supportive community which now includes you.
As a sidenote, we have a gorgeous lawyer friend who lives in Basel.

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Vanessa. A "gorgeous lawyer friend" in Basel, you say? The place sounds better by the minute.

I think too that Sapph will enjoy having me to herself for three days next week. Sleeping-in at the hotel might prove to be just as attractive as sightseeing!

Kari said...

What a week :( I'm so glad for Nafeesa's sake that she has such a friend in Sapphire and such a wonderful foster family in all of you. If only similar things could be arranged for all children in her situation - definitely more stress than any child or teenager (or young adult) should have to bear. I hope her Mum experiences some improvement.

River said...

You're a treasure Kath and I'm honoured to know you. I'm so glad Nafeesa had you and Sapph to turn to and I'm pleased as punch to hear that her mum will recover. Sapph. has the same caring soul that you do, you and LC are raising a wonderful woman.
I have a houseguest myself tonight. My grandson is here, there's been some trouble at home and he had to run away for help.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Kath,

Life is short and life kicks you in the teeth sometimes. And that's when people need friends to turn to.

I hope everything works out OK.

Cheers

PM

Imogen said...

Sending you all virtual hugs. I echo / ditto all the comments - you and your family truly are such kind and loving folks. Nafeesa is in my thoughts (as is her mother of course)

And ooooh those photos are divine. Milly is cuter than all possible cutenesses. Those ears! Oh my heart.

Kath Lockett said...

Thank you everyone and I hope, dear River, that your grandson is OK? Thank Choc he knew that he had you to run to.

ropcorn said...

Yes, tough times like the ones you shared here definitely make one appreciate the small things in life. I hope your friend regain her health soon.

And such lovely photos! Milly looks like she has settled in quite nicely in her new surroundings. :-)

TamvdK said...

This is why we miss you so much Kath! Sapph is learning from a master and her friendship is as all-encompassing and genuine as yours.
Our best wishes to Nafeesa and Yasmin, time and care will heal them both.
Long luxurious tummy rubs to Milly-bear!

Kath Lockett said...

Yasmin is now eating 'off the tube' and apparently stood up (assisted) yesterday. Her mother (Nafeesa's grandmother) is hopefully arriving in two weeks' time.

Apparently an emergency visa from Lebanon to Switzerland isn't useful, because Nafeesa's home in actually situated 3km across the border, in France. So a 'normal' visa is required with as many efforts/begging/attempts as possible to speed things up. As Nafeesa's uncle (who flew in from Lebanon for three hours yesterday) said, "The queues for visas to leave Lebanon are long enough to be seen from space."

Thank you all again for your kind comments. Every single one of them means a helluva lot me as I sit here, still unshowered, slightly grumpy and wondering what the hell I can get Nafeesa to actually eat....

Hannah said...

Oh, Kath. You give me faith in this world of ours, faith that there are people with open hearts and arms, generosity, love, with true empathy and courage and strength. You and your family are amazing, and I'm crossing my fingers and wishing for a speedy recovery for Yasmin.

Anji said...

You and sapphire are the kind of friends everyone needs. I hope that Yasmin continues to make good progress

Christine said...

You are a good friend, an oasis of hope for that little girl and her mother. This will be a loooong journey...Take Care

Baino said...

What do you do tho? Exactly what you did. Poor woman, poor kid. They're very lucky to have you there for them. I remember my mother having the same symptoms and it was diagnosed as a 'mile stroke' fortunately no repercussions but it was frightening to listen to a normally cogniscent person get their words all jumbled. You're a good person Kath Lockett

diane b said...

I could give her a kiss on her wet nose too not sure about picking up pooh. It is so good what you are doing for Sapphire's friend and mother. I remember my daughter's friend at 12 lost her mother and brother in a car accident and you can't help but want to comfort them and help them as much as possible. It is a wake up call in how sudden situations can change. Seize the day.