S Sense

The old woman in front of me at the checkout is one of those straight-backed women whose wiry frame suggests a life of few indulgences. Its peak hour in Farmer Charlies.

The old woman is slow. Real slow. Theres a queue behind her. I feel the pressure. Her stiff fingers, one with a gold band, grapple with her seniors card (for a 10 per cent discount). She doesnt rush. Shes buying three loaves of cheap white bread and a carton of the cheapest eggs.

She hands the teenage checkout girl a crumpled note and a handful of coin. Its the correct money, she adds.

Of course it is. She works hard at coping with everyday mundanities as the years have taken their toll on body and mind. Her lists are detailed; her money accounting is scrupulous.

Her hand shakes as she places her eggs and bread into her shopping bag. It takes some time. The line behind me murmurs with impatience.

She wont let the pressure flummox her. Shes tough.

She has toughed out floods and droughts. She has raised kids on meagre resources and seen them migrate to the cities from where they send photos of the grandkids. Sometimes they visit at Xmas but they treat her like a child now, making decisions for her, stripping dignity and independence from her. She resists that.

What do they know about her? Of the love made as she lay in his arms, under an apple gum, the milking done, the sun setting, sharing dreams of a shared future. A future now already lived.

What do they know of the pain of waving goodbye to him from the door of the farmhouse, her heart panicking with a dark premonition, as he jumped onto a truck loaded with men going off to fight in a country they had only read about in books?

The old woman drops her bag. Oh she exclaims, her poise threatened. I pick up the bag.

What do they know of her throat-gagging agony when he didnt return?

I pull out the eggs to check them. Some of them are broken. She looks at me. There is the faintest trace of despair in her eyes. Im about to say something when the checkout girl says, Dont worry, Ill get you another carton. And rushes off to do so.

Behind me all impatience has disappeared from the queue. This woman is our mother. She has nursed us and suffered for us. She daily looks into the abyss that will confront us all eventually and defiantly toughs it out. She deserves the dignity she fights to maintain.

When the girl returns with the eggs, the woman says, Thank you. She walks off slowly, and very straight.


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