Friday, December 09, 2011

Two chairs

When we first arrived in Switzerland, we all suffered terrible colds that lingered and made life in a new country an extra challenge.

The hotel 'residence' didn't help much either, but somehow Love Chunks would magic up a meal using just one saucepan, two dessert spoons and a jar and we'd either squeeze out onto the 50cm deep balcony or around the coffee table.

We were three storeys up and one street back from 'Rue de Tram' - the main shopping strip of Geneva. The soundtrack to our new lives was the mosquito buzz of scooters, the screech and clang of daily 3am rubbish trucks and the sonorous St Pierre church bells.

Hard rubbish days seemed to be weekly as opposed to twice yearly in Australia. From our lofty position we spotted a zebra-patterned dining chair and wondered if it might be worth snaffling and storing in the hotel bathroom for when we found a place to rent. Sapphire offered to go downstairs and check it out. "Eeee-oooh, no way, Mum. The reason the CD player's sitting on the top is because there's a huge stain on it."

Dinner that night was Uncle Ben's rice, supermarket salad and chicken something-or-other on plastic picnic plates.

A bag lady who seemed to be a regular around our neighbourhood appeared, dragging a chair up our side street. She spied the zebra chair and had a think for a while before apparently deciding that she needed both.

Scr-iiiiiiii-tch, Scr-iiiiiii-tch, Scr-iiiiii-tch. She'd drag one chair about a metre, then pull the other one alongside. It was pretty hard going because it was a warm summer evening and she was wearing what might have been her entire wardrobe including a fake fur coat and a kid's backpack.

I went inside, feeling conflicted. I wanted to take her photo but also felt tears coming on. It's always the same question when I see someone sleeping in newspapers or reeking of urine whilst pissed: How did they end up like that? What becomes of them?

Scr-iiiiiiii-tch, Scr-iiiiiii-tch, Scr-iiiiii-tch. Through the curtains of our hotel doors, I could see that she had reached the corner of the side street and the main street and decided to rest. Both chairs were placed opposite each other, forming a rough bed for her to relax on.

"Stop looking at her, Mum. Come and watch a Raising Hope episode with me."

An hour later, she was still there. Surely not sleeping because the night-clubbers were starting to appear and girls walking with linked arms and silly heels had to brush past the chairs to make their way to the taverns in Rive and Old Town.

At my bedtime it was almost completely dark and the white lines of the zebra chair were still visible. Her gray hair hung over the back of the chair and this time she did look to be dreaming, clutching the backpack in her arms.

I did take the photos and finally closed the door.

Sapphire was still awake which wasn't surprising seeing as the kitchen and sleeping were one and the same room and I had to climb over her sofa bed to shut the doors.
"Why are you crying, Mum?"

I knew that it was a combination of shock at how badly I was coping with our move overseas, a lingering cold, worry about Sapphire and being able to afford to rent anywhere within a 100km radius of Love Chunks' workplace but the lady moved me. "Mum?"

"I guess I'm sad because nobody, at eight years old, says, 'I hope to end up as a crazed, homeless and stinking bag lady' when asked what they'd like to be when they grow up."

The next morning, both she and the chairs were gone.


The Elephant's Child said...

Oh Kath, with empathy like that no wonder we love you. And empathy does come at a (sometimes very high) cost. I hope that Sapph is starting to feel better and that you continue to find magic like the falconer. Presumptious hugs.

Anji said...

Beautifully written.

We had a lady who hung around the local Monoprix. Usually drunk. My daughter discovered that she used to work there and was very in love with a young man who used to pick her up from work every evening. One day he didn't come and she never got over it and started to drink. of course she lost her job and her appartment and lived on the street. They found her dead last winter (which was very cold) in the bushes somewhere near the town centre.

It could happen to all of us when something happens to pull our lives off centre.

yes, as the Elephant's Child says - How is Sapphire?

Red Nomad OZ said...

Scary how fine the line is between being what I am and being what I could be if a few vital ingredients were missing ... I wonder will you ever see the zebra chair again?

Thanx for referring Elizabeth! (I assume it was you - either that or I've got another (previously anonymous) reader called Kath!!

River said...

EC is right; this is why we love you. I have similar thoughts when I see women pushing a shopping trolley containing everything they own, surely this is not what their parents dreamed for them when these women were new babies.

How is Sapphire?

Kath Lockett said...

Thank you E-Child. We've just got back from the hospital because they wanted to check her progress and put in a new catheter. She is feeling a bit better but it will take a while until she's 100%. In the meantime, I'm lucky enough to spend time with a lovely young lady who makes me reel back in admiration (and/or laughter) every day.

Anji that is so sad - precisely the sort of situation you imagine or dread happening. I wonder what happened to the young man?

RedNomadOz - I've seen a few zebra posters and they remind me of her and the 'there but for the grace of god, go I' imaginings.

River, we love YOU, too!

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Kath,

I didn't really expect to see a bag lady in Geneva - I guess there are problems everywhere. And it is sad.

On a lighter note - I might be heading to Geneva early in the new year with work for a day or two - so I can see for myself I guess.



Kath Lockett said...

PlasMan, if you ARE heading to Geneva, I insist on meeting up with you. Yep, I've now said it in a public arena - I have coffee, chocolate, a friendly dog and a teeny bit of knowledge (hard-earned) on how to avoid pickpockets, bad accordian-playing tram buskers and where you can find some willing (if not necessarily attractive) Ladies of the Night....

Vanessa said...

This really touched me because it is how i think of my own brother. I look at my wedding photos and see a 13 year old boy in a suit being cheeky. I last saw him two years ago during a "mini break"from his life in jail. He is 29 and broken beyond repair. Drugs took away any recognisable part of him, and a piece of my heart.

Kath Lockett said...

Oh Vanessa ...... that is so awful. It reminds me of the recent media stories about Madonna's older brother (whose name escapes me). Much was made of how he was homeless and penniless and how heartless she was.

I'm no Madge fan but a few more details revealed that her father had given him work at the family winery for years and that they had all tried to help him. There must come a point for some people when their loved ones and friends can't do anything else to help. I'm sorry to hear that your brother is one of them.