Fiction - The Gathering

These little gatherings are getting rather regular recently, bit-by-bit the family come together and the conversations start to flow after hesitant starts. At the moment it’s just my youngest brother Ted, his wife June and me that are here but the others will come, they always come. Last time Phil, my oldest brother was the one who prompted a meeting like this but he won’t be joining us now.

Ted’s great, he’s just told us a funny story about the time he lost his house keys and had to get in through the window. We started laughing about him trying to get in through a window these days! Luckily it happened back in Rangoon, a long time ago when he was much more agile and security was much looser. Don’t think that any of us could climb through a window these days.

There’s a lot to discuss but nobody wants to talk about the reason we are here, I guess they’ll be plenty of time for that later. There’s no rush any more, things will happen when they are due to happen, although I do find the waiting around very difficult.

Oh here are Kenny and Carrie, poor Carrie she always looks so awkward on these occasions. Kenny just carries on as though he is on a night out with his friends, laughing and joking, telling stories about people that he should probably keep to himself. Carrie gets so cross with him. I don’t know why, if everyone were like Carrie, we would all just sit here looking at the wall, nobody saying a word. That wouldn’t help anyone would it?

There’s a table full of snacks and drinks. Fruit, vitamin water (whatever that is?), lot’s of treats from the old country that would have been eagerly devoured in the past but not now. Now they just sit there untouched and unwanted, someone will have to take them home again, still the thought was there, people trying to ease the journey.

Sometimes in the past, we have worried that we are disturbing the other people. Not all the people around us are here for the same reason, they are entitled to their rest, and so we tend to work a shift system as we gather around the person in need. Sometimes you can spend hours in the waiting area but that’s fine, everyone helps each other along and somehow the time passes.

When we gathered for Bobby, it almost turned into a party. Now that may sound odd, some would even say it’s disrespectful but Bobby loved his family and he loved a party. There was a moment late in the evening when a man’s radio started playing an old Sinatra tune. Bobby loved Sinatra; the whole family did, so when the man noticed us looking in his direction he said sorry for the noise. We told him how much we liked it and he turned up the volume a little. Then Peg and Maurice started dancing, slowly and elegantly just like they used to do after the war in the ballroom of The Strand Hotel near the Ferry terminal in Rangoon. They not have been as steady on their feet as they once were but every step they took together bought the memories of those happy days back. Bobby looked so happy.

When I look back on it now, it’s amazing to think of the upheaval that our family has seen since those nights at The Strand, all those years ago. Many of us have travelled thousands of miles as circumstances forced us away from the place that we had called home. Yet, somehow the family bonds have stayed strong and here we are, all of those that are still alive are in this room, and it’s lovely to feel the support of the next generation as well. Even though they have only really known life in this country, they show a respect for our old ways, our need to be together, which is very touching.

It’s nice here though, we have our own room, and so we can all gather in the same place. I must have dozed off for a while because now the whole family is in here. It’s lovely to see everyone and hear everyone around me. I suppose it’s inevitable that a lot of the stories refer back to the old days. The nice thing for me is that I’ve heard them all before, so when I drift away for a little while, as I do, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. I know what’s been said and I know what’s going to be said.

The talk has turned to Debbie’s wedding and it sounds like someone wanted to change the subject, thinking it was wrong to talk about something that we may all not be part of. I expect it was Milo, he is such a sensitive boy, when Freddie was going through this, it was almost like he was holding on for Milo before he let things slip away. It had been Freddie’s birthday and during the day everyone had been in to see him, no-one could tell how long Freddie was going to be in there, it could have been days or hours. Late in the day Milo arrived, he’d driven for two hours after finishing work and by that time of night you could tell the Freddie was exhausted.

When Milo came into the room, Freddie was just starting to doze, then he heard Milo say “Is Grandpa still awake” and he eyes slowly opened, he moved his face towards the sound of the voice and his face turned into a huge smile. “ Hi son, how was work? You must be tired, you didn’t need to come all this way to see me.” But you could tell that he was thrilled. Well later that night Freddie went, I guess he’d seen everyone and knew that he could just let go. The time had come, somehow Milo knew that he had to make the journey that day, there wouldn’t be another chance.

My eyes are so heavy now and my mind is tired but the talking around me is stirring memories, so many happy memories. I’ve been feeling cold most of the time recently but that’s starting to go, as I remember playing in the sun with my brothers. The smell of mother’s cooking is strong in my nose, someone is massaging my forehead now, just like mum used to do when I was a child and afraid of the dark. Well the darkness is all around me now, but with the family here I am no longer afraid. It’s time to let go. It’s time to let them all go home. Time to move on.