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WORD VIEW: Woman in the window


Esther Phillips

WORD VIEW: Woman in the window

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It was Monday morning. The same choc-o-block traffic; the same slow, frustrating crawl towards The City. He sat in his SUV, his children squabbling in the back. His mind tuned in occasionally to what they were rowing over, but kept returning to the presentation he had to make later that morning. His future and that of the big corporation for which he worked was hanging on its success.
He became very much aware of the small chattel house that he was approaching on his right.
No doubt every driver who passed on that road was familiar with the old woman who would call out to them from her window in her loud, cheerful voice, though he himself was never sure of what she said.
Until the first time the slow-moving traffic had forced his vehicle to stop right in front of her window and the old woman had spoken to him directly.
“Mornin’, Sonny. How yuh? Dohn mind all de traffic. Tek it easy!”
Maybe it was her last three words that helped trigger the unforgettable experience that overwhelmed him. It seemed unbelievable that “so much memory/ could rush from one chattel house/ window, could fill up a SUV quick/ so with oil-leaf smell and Vicks/ and candle-grease and a small/ boy scarcely able to breathe/ and an old woman rubbing/ his back and chest and rocking/him back and forth . . . ‘Dohn mind, you tek it easy’.”
The old woman, in his case, had been his great aunt Lilly who had always taken good care of him and who had nursed him through his childhood illnesses.
Years later he would learn that he had filled a space in her heart; her own son had left the island as a young man and she had never seen or heard from him since. But the one thing he never doubted was how much his old aunt loved him.
A smile lingered on his lips as he approached the small house. What would she have to say to him, especially this morning?
In the slow traffic, it was possible that he would have to pause in front of her house once again. Then his eye caught the sign that someone had placed just under her window: Maude Is Dead.
He felt sadness at the passing of this old woman whose first name he had only just discovered. Who was she? Why had she spoken to him as she had on that morning some weeks ago? And how was it that the voices of the dead seemed able to speak so clearly?
Later that morning and before the meeting, he realized he had grasped a lesson that would remain with him: “She’s with him in the boardroom . . ./ When he would jump ahead the line, nudge/a partner back down a rung or two,/ he hears [Aunt Lilly’s] voice, ‘Tek it easy’.” He knew within himself that the voice of caution was timely. He would pay heed.
He thought of his own children. Thank God for their grandmother who was still alive and with whom they were close. He knew well enough what strong values she was passing on to them.
But he thought also of the thousands of young people for whom there was no woman in the window, no connection between present and past, no wisdom by experience that was passed on.
The extended family, with all its significant value, hardly existed and with its demise, the voices of guidance and caution, whether or not they were heeded, had been stilled.
Sometimes in a whimsical moment he thinks of incorporating some of those ideas into his marketing presentations. But he knows the world in which he has to function. Money and profit are all that matter. And in all kinds of ways, and with all its pitfalls and deceptions, this has become the world’s new gospel.
No one knows better than he the daily struggle to keep his balance between satisfying his employers and maintaining his personal integrity. He knows too well the values of the corporate world: strive, compete, win, win, win! But he looks often to the woman in the window and to what she represents: everyone is my neighbour, unfairness don’t prosper, what is for you, you will get. Tek it easy.
• Esther Phillips is an educator, poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century.

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