A Festive Stroke of Genius

MY DAUGHTER has left me in the Exquisite Bean Cafe while she does her Christmas shopping. She always looks a little guilty when she leaves me here like this, as though she is off on some pleasurable mission she doesn’t want me to share. Perhaps she does some window gazing along with the groceries, dreaming a little; she might even try on some shoes. But she never says.

‘You’ll be all right, won’t you, mum?’ she asks anxiously. I nod carefully.

She has ordered a coffee for me and it sits a little in front of me and to my right, nestled into the plastic holly. I’m not going to drink it, but I like to know where it is. It’s important to preserve the forms of life. In coffee shops, you have coffee.

But my daughter should not feel guilty. I love these little outings. The Exquisite Bean is on the first floor of our local shopping mall, and set in open space, so I can see all the hustle and bustle around me. I don’t hustle much any more, but watching others is so interesting.

Stressed mothers, children running everywhere excited by the Christmas lights and father Christmases and cornucopia of toys. I love them all, now I’m not responsible for them; businessmen, students and oldies like me, watching, slower now. Much, much slower…

An ordinary scene, an everyday scene.

So it was very strange to hear a language I hadn’t heard since childhood, A rare language, and an unexpected one in a suburban shopping centre. Two male voices, sitting at the table behind me. Speaking in hushed tones. I can’t turn round but my ears are still working. Yes it’s definitely that language, the staccato consonants, the languid vowels. I knew it well, in another life, and another time, when my ayah was almost my mother, and the language was my communication with her world.

I set myself an interesting exercise. How much of the old tongue does my aging brain remember? This will be fun. I smile inwardly with excitement.

They are speaking quickly, urgently, and at first I have trouble deciphering the words. ‘Slow down’ I want to call out, but of course I can’t.

One voice is older, pauses more for breath; the other is a youthful tenor, impatient, the words tumbling over each other. Father and son, I wonder, an argument, perhaps.

‘You have no shame’ I tell myself, ‘listening in on private conversations.’ But I decide to anyway. When you get older, you can be disgraceful sometimes. That’s my theory anyway, and the situation is unique. I digress. I think I do that quite a lot these days. Such a long life, every event stirs up so many memories, it’s hard to stay in the present.

I can follow the older speaker better. He has slowed down, to stress a point, it seems. ‘You must do this.’ He says.

‘We have no other way.’ The younger man replies. I catch only a few words.

‘dangerous’ ‘people will be hurt.’. His voice rises, he appears upset.

‘Learning only comes through pain.’ Says the older man.

‘When?’ asks the younger ‘One o’clock. At the busy time. You have the bomb?” I am sure. He said ‘the Bomb’. I can see the clock at the

end of the mall. It says 12.15. The younger voice has risen. Words undecipherable. I

think he is crying. ‘The first is the hardest.’ Says the older man, calmly.’

You will find glory for this act. Remember that.’ A cold knife of fear slides down into my guts. What

can I do? I don’t like to wallow in self-pity or anything like that,

but I am a bit incapacitated since the stroke earlier this year. You know the sort of thing, paralysis on the left side and hardly any movement on my right. Oh, and I can’t speak any more. Though my therapist and I are working on this and I do hope to improve. The old brain still works, though. That’s why my daughter takes me out, but doesn’t push me round the shops. Wheel chairs are difficult in supermarkets.

I digress again, I think.

Have they placed the bomb yet? I can’t tell from what they have said. Perhaps the young one will blow himself up. That would be beyond horror. I must do something. Anything.

I take three deep breaths. I focus all my strength into my right arm. The one with a little movement. Slowly, so slowly my hand reaches the cup of coffee. I grasp the cup. I can feel the hot china burning my thin skin. I twist convulsively and the cup and the coffee fly over my head to the table behind. My chair overbalances and that is the last I remember for a few minutes.

When I come to, people are leaning over me.

’She had some sort of fit.’ Someone is telling my daughter. ’She drenched those poor men in hot coffee.’

‘Bomb!’ I’m trying to say the word, but it comes out garbled. But my lovely, clever daughter hears.

‘She said ‘bomb’, I think you need to call security’

Well, its not everyday a 90 year old stroke victim becomes a hero. My picture is in all the papers, and I can have free coffee at the Exquisite Bean any time I like. Bit more physiotherapy, and I might be able to drink it.

Still, I am a little shocked sitting in the café today. My photo is on the counter with the caption – Our Hero – decorated tastefully with tinsel. But, underneath in the display cabinet is a sign saying,

This Week’s Special – Bombe Alaska A bit poor really. But I did enjoy my free one.