A RAY OF LIGHT by Myfanwy Cook
"Mummy, mummy, listen."
"Yes, Jamie,” said Kathy. She didn't want to listen, but knew she'd have.to. Jamie tugged at her jumper. He took her rough hand in his small soft one, and pulled her into the sitting room.
"Look. A bridge. I made it. And that's for trains to park." His chubby face glowed with pride.
"Yes, Jamie. Yes, very nice." Kathy didn't want to listen even to Jamie. Her mind was clogged with the things people poured into it. She listened as a mother, a wife, a daughter and as a friend. What she wanted was a job to escape to. She wanted real work where she could do something worthwhile and not have to listen all the time.
The telephone rang and rang.
"Thank you Jamie. Mummy knows. She doesn't want to answer it. It'll be Marty and I can't cope with her today." Kathy loved her friend. The loss of Marty's husband in a car crash had been tragic. Since it had happened, Marty phoned or called to see Kathy every day. Kathy tried to be patient. She'd managed. It was at the expense of her own health. Marty timed her visits to coincide with tea time. She would drone on while Kathy cooked tea for Jamie and Libby, all three demanding their share of attention.
Her husband wasn't home often. His job of repairing troublesome computers took him everywhere and absorbed all his concentration. When he came home he was like an attractive, decorative ornament. He sat on the sofa with his head buried in a technical journal. He rarely spoke, and never listened. The children had given up trying to tell him about their lives. They told mummy everything, and so did Marty. Her other friends only burdened her with some of their problems, from toddler tantrums and adolescent hormone problems, to cats with fleas. Her neighbours all had something wrong with them.
"Nobody listens to me," they all said as if in chorus. "Kathy, you're such a good listener."
What about me? Kathy wanted to shout. Nobody ever listens to me. Then she'd calm down. She'd reason with herself that she was lucky. Chris, her husband, wasn't dead like Marty's. Jamie and Libby were healthy, warm children, whom she adored. Then the doorbell would ring and a neighbour would be bawling her eyes out with some latest tale of woe.
Kathy wanted to shake them. "Do you realise how lucky you are?" she felt like saying. "Your cat's died. That's terrible." "Your sister's ill. That's life." "Stop whinging and do something!" The trouble was that one glimpse of puffy eyes and trembling chins would change her mind. “How awful. Come inside for a cup of tea," she'd hear herself saying.
She went to an assertiveness course. She didn't learn how to be assertive. Instead, she added the course tutor to her list of lame ducks.
Winter came, and with it a new round of troubles unburdened in her kitchen; from cold houses to family quarrels over Christmas. The dark short days tipped the balance. She found part time work in a modern multinational company. Her first day was wonderful. She hardly exchanged a word with anyone. The weeks rolled by, and the sanitised environment, broken only by the sound of printers and hushed footsteps on the anti-static carpet began to niggle her. The sealed windows shut out the outside world and left her with only the hum of the air conditioning for company.
She got into the habit of dropping into a small, family run, Italian cafe on the way home. Eavesdropping on their conversation refreshed her. It was packed one wet lunchtime. The only seat was next to an elderly gentleman concentrating on eating an all day breakfast.
"Hope you don't mind if I join you?”
"No," he said, and went on slowly chewing. His eyes were fixed on the menu. He didn't look at her. She studied his face. It was a teacher from her primary school days. He’d retired the year after he’d taught her.
"Mr Drew. I was in your class at school. You helped me with my reading."
"Did I?" He smiled. "Is there anything I can do for you now?"
She realised he’d forgotten her. He’d forgotten everything. "How’s your wife?"
"How kind of you to ask. I'm not sure."
The confusion in his eyes upset her. "Where are you living?"
"I think .... No, you must excuse me, dear. I don't know." He fumbled in his pocket and produced a card with his name and address on it.
"When you've finished, would you like me to take you home?"
"Yes, please. How kind of you.”
She wanted to cry. They arrived at the residential home and an anxious face opened the door. "We were worried where you'd got to, Mr Drew."
Kathy stayed and had a cup of tea with him. As she was leaving, he stood up and shook her hand in a formal fashion. "Thank you, my dear. You don't know how nice it is for someone to ask how you are."
She visited him every week. His wife was dead. He had no other visitors. Their conversations were simple; about the room, the weather, the food. They were always in the present. He never remembered her name. Every time she left he’d stand and open the door for her. "Thank you for listening, my dear,,, “ he would say.
She loved Mr Drew. She loved listening to him. He deserved to be listened to. Listening wasn't a burden for her any more. She had a gift, a way of bringing a ray of light into lives of dark loneliness.