We walk back towards Stratford to pick up the car and leave for a couple of days off. Marcus, our excellent driver, comments about Jane’s and my relationship and tell me we are a great team.
I ask him who he thinks is the boss?
He grins: “it’s obvious,” he says. “Jane of course.”
There is no more to say really is there.
The Real Me
In Zimbabwe, ZANE looks after hundreds of very old and frail people. When you’re running a charity with finite resources, there is always the temptation to talk in numbers and thereby depersonalise people, simply regarding them as a group to be financially supported.
But if Helen, now a feeble old bag of bones hunched up in a bed, was able to speak fluently, she might tell us of how she was brought up in an orphanage in the Transvaal, and left school at 13; or how before the war she won a beauty contest, and how she wished we could see her as she was then with a trim figure, gorgeous brown eyes and thick hair with autumn tints.
Then she married Jim and things were tough. There are no NHS or social services in Zimbabwe – if you need help, there are only local friends who might be able to sympathise briefly, but then again they have their own problems for everyone is fighting some sort of battle.
Jim bought a farm from the government, about 20 km from Marondera. Feisty Helen helped Jim literally hack a home and productive fields from the raw bush. For 45 years, grass was endlessly cut back, scrub and weeds were hooked out, fencing was put up, cattle were tended and dams were built. It was a hard life but a happy and rewarding one too. Sadly, the grown children left with one-way tickets for Tasmania and Toronto –having children leave home for work reasons is an occupational hazard for most Zimbabwe families these days.
Then in a blaze of lurid publicity the world watched as the farm invasions began. In Helen and Jim’s case, they were violently thrown off the farm that had been their home. They saw their pedigree cattle being starved and then hacked to death; they watched their dams silt up and mature trees cut down. Machinery was sold and crops left to waste, and their workers were assaulted and turfed out of their houses. The couple watched the nightmare unfold in slow motion – and a lifetime of love and hard labour was reduced to a car crash.
Six years ago, Helen was obliged to nurse Jim as he lay dying from a broken heart.
If Helen could speak now, I bet she’d say to her carers, “My body may be worn out but I am still a feisty woman with a vibrant soul. Stop waking me when I want to sleep, stop putting me to bed when I want to stay awake. Stop rationing my brandy and stop treating me like a schoolgirl when you find fags in my handbag. After all, what’s the point of my living for yet another week or so – it’ll only be raining! And stop talking to me as if I was an educationally sub-normal child. Look beyond and beneath what you think you see, and talk to the person I have been – and still am. Above all, respect my wish to stay in control of what remains of my life.
We saw Helen crouching in a foetal position. It’s amazing how tiny a space this human being occupied. The carers nudged her gently and told her that we there to see her. They talked in the way carers do when they spend their lives communicating with people who are losing their brain cells fast.
“Hello Helen… Tom is here, dear. He has come all the way from Oxford to see you. Will you say “hello” to him?
The little bundle moved slightly and the head lifted ever so warily, just enough for the mouth to be freed and one eye to open.
“Piss off!” she hissed, and that was it.
So I did. It’s a great privilege to be able to help such a courageous women as Helen.