Plantation widow-By Ransiri Menike Silva
Holidaying together in Sri Lanka with their families were my son and a friend, both domiciled in Australia. For greater enjoyment they usually planned their trips here together, when they could catch up on belated family news and visits. That was how my son learnt that his friend was looking for an elders’ home for his mother, and his friend was relieved to hear that I myself was already in one. He immediately decided that she should apply to the same elders’ home, facing opposition with, “I don’t have to see it. If it is good enough for my friend’s mother then it is good enough for mine.” It was the best recommendation.
As my grandsons were schooling, my son had to return before school reopened, while his friend opted to stay on a little longer. I already knew him as his parents were known to my elder brother and I had already met him at his place.
He contacted me soon after to inquire whether there were any vacancies in our complex. He arranged to bring his mother, a widow from a young age, to show the place that evening. I awaited the meeting eagerly. He stopped the car near the quadrangle, got off and came up to me asking to see the room, which was already fully furnished. I pointed it out to him as it was directly opposite mine which was an added attraction. I unlocked the door and waited outside to welcome her. Then he gave me the surprising news that she was disabled and unable to walk, and therefore he would carry her in. I placed the chair at a convenient spot for her and waited. After carrying her in he placed her on the chair. The son went to the landlord’s office to get all the details he needed, finalise arrangements and make payments. I sat beside her on another chair and we conversed until his return. She was rather frail but pleasant, and spoke about, among other things, her connection with my brother’s family.
She moved in soon after, having found an efficient and loving personal carer. Each evening this girl would wash her, dress her up and wheel her out to the garden under the shady trees. I would join her there and we would sit watching life around us and comment on the passing scene. It was during these sessions that I learnt how she had been disabled. She had been widowed early, with a young son and daughter. Her husband’s death had hit the headlines at the time, for he had been a top official in the state plantation sector, who had informed the CID of the anti-state activities of those working under him. In retaliation, their party, now pretending to be a peaceful organisation, had brutally assassinated him.
The young family was destroyed with no income of their own. However, the state did not let them down. But found her a job, and along with help from family and friends she had a regular income that enabled her to live fairly comfortably, while educating her two children. Time passed. The children became adults and wage earners, who now rewarded their mother in every possible way for all the hardship she had endured on their behalf. The daughter married and settled down. The son, in order to better his professional prospects, applied for a profitable position in an Australian firm, which was accepted. He migrated with the intention of getting his mother to join him there later. By this time he was married with a young child. The mother was happy. She had already experienced life in Australia on previous trips and she could once again become part of her own family.
The final move involved a lot of work which only she could attend to, not only concluding her personal affairs but also providing all the necessary official information about the family, which only she could provide. The son had already been there for some weeks helping out and now they were seated in the airport lounge ready to emplane. It had all been tiring work, both physically and emotionally and she was exhausted. Then, without warning, the mother suddenly collapsed! When she was rushed to the emergency unit at the nearest hospital it was found that she had suffered a stroke.
She could not immigrate to Australia now, even if she fully recovered, which she did not. She was partially paralysed and confined to a life between bed and wheelchair. It was at this stage she came into my life. After moving in she settled in comfortably with us. The son flew in for brief visits whenever his work permitted, bringing his family along on their annual Christmas vacation for a longer stay. It was during such times that my son’s family also joined them on their combined visits to their respective mothers and we had an entertaining time together. Then she fell grievously ill and had to be hospitalised where she was finally relieved of all the physical and emotional trauma she had had to endure during her lifetime. My brother and I attended her funeral.
Her son continued to keep in touch with me through phone calls, letters and gifts sent through others and visiting me whenever he was in Sri Lanka. This is how he found me in the annexe I had moved into after leaving the elders’ home complex. He was delighted after inspecting the unit and learning of all the conveniences at hand banks, supermarkets, hospitals, my personal GP and regular trishaw man, and best of all, my brother in the lane directly across ours. “K will be thrilled,” he said, referring to my son, and began taking photos to show my son on his return.
We continued to keep in touch, though now unable to meet due to the pandemic situation. But I shall always remember him, for there they all are along with my son’s family, grinning cheerfully from the pages of my photograph album.