Do you know the lazy daisy stitch? she asked. I was taken aback. I wasn’t expecting her interruption and it took me a while to work out what she meant. She draw the shape with her finger onto my aida. You know, like a daisy. Then she talked about doing applique. You know where you sew one material on top of another, she said. And then we put mirrors in it. We sew around the mirror shapes. Ah, yes, I said, I know, like you see in Indian-style clothes. Yes, she said, smiling, I am Indian.
What a smile. What vivacity. I’ve been wanting to talk to you, she said, but there is never time. I have to take the residents their pills. But she stayed. We talked more. We talked about residential care in India. She is from Delhi. She’s been working in the home for ten years and has almost completed her nurse training. I will leave in September, she said. If it was a nursing home I would stay. I work all the time. Studying and working. There are two students in our home. My daughter is studying Architecture in Bristol. I couldn’t get a grant, my husband earns too much. He is a radiographer at the hospital. I am lucky, my husband cooks. No, there is nothing like this in India. We care for our parents at home. One wife I know gave up everything to go and live in the hospital with her paralysed husband. We pay for it all ourselves. I go back every three or four years. My husband wants to return but I say we need to earn more money first. We don’t own our own house. We can’t get a mortgage yet, but when I am a nurse in the hospital, maybe.
She wanted to talk. She wanted to talk to me. She touched the cloth. The stitches are tiny, so small, she said. It’s nothing, I wanted to say. It is a prop, a means to be here, witnessing, observing, being amongst these strangers. But I didn’t. It was her way in. She responded to what I was doing, recognised it, knew it. It was enough.
And I thought nothing was going to happen. Just the man going in and out of the French windows. And the other man making noises. Bugger, bugger, boing, boing, tum-tee-tum. And another member of staff, a Pilipino girl, singing the chorus to she’ll be coming round the mountain – Aye, aye yippee, yippee aye – as she laid the tables for lunch. And the woman in the spectacles, drinking tea, filling in a diary and staring at the crossword folded up on her lap, her rucked-up pop-socks the only sign of something awry.
I’m muddled today, said the woman with the son with tattoos that we used to see in Morrison’s.
Keep it confidential, she said to us. Some people don’t want it to be known that they are not looking after their relatives. It’s the shame. She said it too.
He saw her at the entrance, she was bringing her mother in. I wanted to do it, she said, but it got too much. We just do the best we can, don’t we? And another, how is she? She talks of a dark wood. It is hard being alone with the responsibility and so thankless too. What can you do? Just love. That’s all. That’s all there is.