Louise walked into the coffee shop and immediately spotted her friend Jane, sat at a table by the back window. As she walked over, Jane stood up and
“It’s so good to see you. My treat this time, remember? It’s my turn. What can I get you?” asked Jane, “The usu- al?”
“Go on then. Yes please.”
As Jane went off to get their customary rooibos tea and petit fours (for which the coffee shop was renowned) Louise unravelled her scarf, took off her hat, gloves and coat and sat down at the table. Jane came back with the tray and sat down.
“I won’t be able to have these next week,” she remarked, as she took the plate of four miniature cakes off the tray and put it on the table. “It’s my New Year’s resolution. I’m giving up refined sugar.”
“Do you think you’re going to last at that?” enquired Louise teasingly.
“Well…who knows? I’m going to give it a go. I read about it a while back and it really interests me. I can still eat natural sugar, such as foods high in sugar like fruit and honey, just not refined sugar. There was a study that proved this diet can boost energy levels, clear the skin, help weight loss and beat those sugar cravings – like these,” she said picking up a strawberry coloured cake with an iced rose on top and biting into it with obvious relish and delight, “Mmm”.
“Ha, Ha” laughed Louise, picking up a white cake with lemon drizzle on top, “We’re going to have to meet in a different coffee shop if you’re going to have any chance of sticking with your resolution then!!
“What’s your New Year’s Resolution going to be?” Jane asked Louise.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Louise sipped her tea. “It’s my 50th this year, on 4th February, so giving up or cutting down on alcohol and eating just isn’t realistic. Actually, it’s never been realistic! We’ve got to enjoy life, right?… I was toying with the idea of not shouting at the kids… but again, that’s not realistic. I don’t know Jane, reaching the big 5 0 I feel like I want to do something, something different, something significant.”
“Why don’t you come and volunteer down at the Home? You’re still part time at the school, right?” suggested Jane biting into another cake. “Got to enjoy these while I can!”
“Oh, I don’t know Jane. You’re so wonderful, working there with the old folk with their various frailties. You’re a fully trained nurse. I’m not sure I could cope. It’ll be depressing. I said I’m turning 50 not 90!”
“You know what, Louise, I think you’d enjoy it. I wouldn’t suggest it if I didn’t think you would like it. Just come and make tea, plump up the cushions and turn up the volume on the TV! You don’t have to commit now. Just come and try it. It’d be a real help”
“Really, I’m not sure about it.” Louise insisted.
The conversation drifted onto other subjects, the kids, the new house, 50th birthday preparations. But as they collected up their things and left the shop Jane said, “I’ll check with the Manager that she’s happy for you to visit. If she agrees then I will pick you at 10am on Tuesday. I start late on Tuesdays. Don’t over think it. There’s a guy who likes to be read to. You could do that. You might like it! If you do and you want to come more often there’ll be some formalities to go through. Let’s wait and see!”
On Tuesday morning, Louise was still pondering what to wear and feeling stupidly nervous when she heard a car turn into the drive, followed by a honk of the horn.
‘Well, this will have to do’ thought Louise as she looked at herself in the mirror wearing grey trousers and blue and white striped jumper. She threw on her coat, locked the house, took a deep breath, walked over to Jane’s car and got in.
As they walked into the Home, Louise felt even worse. The strange environment coupled with a temperature equivalent to that in the tropics was overpowering.
“Really Jane, I’m not sure about this,” said Louise timidly, regretting her choice of jumper.
“Don’t be silly Louise” replied Jane “You’re here now. We’ll all be old one day. Come on. I need you.”
Louise followed Jane to meet the Manager and sign the Visitor’s book. Then they walked through a large living room, to a kitchen area, and introduced her to Kerris, who was busy unloading the dishwasher.
“I’ve got to get on, Kerris. This is Louise. She’s here to help out,” said Jane introducing the two ladies. “Can you show her how to do tea, and introduce her to John, she can read to him please,” and then turned with a smile and a wink at Louise and walked out.
Louise’s head began to swim as Kerris showed her where to find all the bits and bobs to make tea and as she showed her around the Home she couldn’t help stare at all the people there and feel sorry for them, shut up all day with apparently nothing to do. Kerris showed her where John’s room was and on the way back through the lounge to the kitchen, a lady with white hair in an up-do held by a silver shell clasp, full-on makeup, pearls, and wearing a beautiful navy cardigan with lace detail called out.
“Excuse me, dear, please can you pick up my glasses, they fell on the floor, and I just don’t bend that far any more!”
“Can you get them for her please, I’m off to sort out beds,” said Kerris nodding over to the lady and walking off in the other direction. Suddenly realizing that Kerris had directed the comment to her, Louise went over to the lady, picked up the glasses and gave them back to the lady.
“There you go,” said Louise timidly.
“Oh thank you, are you new round here? I don’t think I’ve seen you before, but then I don’t remember too much these days, I remember plenty from the old days when I was your age, but not much now. What’s your name?” “I’m Louise, What’s your name?”
“I’m Elizabeth. You can call me Beth. I’ve been Beth all my life and all my life I’ve been me. I don’t suppose I could trouble you again?” said Beth, taking hold of Lou- ise’s hand and squeezing it
“Could you be so kind as to get me a cup of tea, please?”
“Sure. That’s exactly what I’m here to do. Be back in a minute”. And with a very new found spring in her step and a sense of purpose Louise headed back to the kitch- en to make tea. As Beth had reached out to hold her hand, Louise had reached into her heart.
Louise started to enjoy herself, chatting to each person as she gave them a cup of tea, plumping a cushion here, getting a book there. After giving out the tea and clear- ing up the cups, she went to John’s room. The door was wide open but she knocked and then entered.
She found John by the open window, leaning on the win- dowsill where he had a window box full of beautiful flow- ers, to which he was tending. It was nice and cool in the
room compared to the main lounge.
“Hello? John?” Louise started bashfully “I’m Louise. I’m a friend of Jane’s. She told me that maybe you would like me to read to you.”
“Oh. Well. Hello!” replied John. “Yes, that would be lovely. I can’t see too well to read these days. Why don’t you choose something to read whilst I tidy up here,” he said as he started to put his gardening tools away in a little green box. They’re over there on the shelf. Take your pick.”
“They’re wonderful flowers John, and at this time of year! You must have green fingers!” remarked Louise as she walked over to the bookshelf.
“Yes. I suppose so,” said John.
The bookshelf consisted of two full rows of leather bound books, of differing sizes and colours, each with a different year printed on its spine running from 1948 to 1985.
“ Have you chosen a year?” enquired John as he sat down in the old leather chair next to the window.
On impulse Louise picked up a book. “1966” she said, walking back over to sit in the chair opposite John’s, “The year I was born.”
“1966” repeated John vaguely. ”No. I can’t remember it now. Remind me.”
So Louise opened the book and began to read: “Diary of John Featherstone March 1966
Posting to Kericho tea plantation, Kenya. Soil Acidity
“So you’re an agriculturist!” remarked Louise. “No won- der you have green fingers!”
“Well, I was an agricultural chemist actually. Studied at Cambridge. Travelled the world. Probably did too much as I can’t remember much of it now. I’m glad I kept a diary all that time. It comes back to me when I read the diaries, although now my eyesight is going I can’t do that much either!” said John laughingly.
Louise smiled “ I can be your audio tape” she said and they began to giggle.
Louise started to read “The drive out from Nairobi to Kericho was something else… the road wasn’t too bad and we travelled without misfortune, it still being the dry season. Stopping for lunch at Lake Naivasha, we spotted a pair of hippos in the lake, and there were zebras and giraffes at the water’s edge drinking….”
Suddenly Louise realised she had two New Year’s resolutions: to volunteer regularly at the Home and keep a diary herself.