The Blue Purse
As she turned away from her screen to tidy the kitchen, an image of the two of them crossed her mind. Razia and Ethel giggling together under the brilliant summer skies of South Africa. Sitting on a patio, no doubt. Wearing cotton, no doubt. Not a turtleneck or tights in sight. Huddled together, laughing out loud. Heads thrown back, then leaning close, the women exchanging intimacies.
“Seriously. You’re kidding.”
“No, seriously. And did you know…”
Oh, under an umbrella, for sure. Their own little momentary Shangri-la under the beating down sun of Jo’burg—a bit of which came across the Atlantic this morning alongside the mangoes and soft orange kanakambra blossoms that Jyoti sent in her email.
For a moment, she felt the warmth of the South bounce off the cold choppy waves of the waters in the harbour.
A chill wind blew across the lake right up to her front door. Rarely did a warm southerly winter wind travel across Lake Superior. Often the wind was northwesterly, cold and hard as a grave in November.
The Lady of the Lake wore many garments, from choppy, bottle-green summer waters with waves that lurched and lapped, to deep blue silks flecked with bronze. At times, when She showered passersby with small, perfect crystal balls made of ice, She wore the black shimmering radiance of early winter.
But for three weeks now, only a solid grey coughed up from the shore. Today, only the narrowest band of blue-mauve broke the leaden skies hold on Nanabijou, protector of the silver harbour.
The overcast skies pressed their heavy dark rain clouds into her kitchen, and the rain beat a song of sorrow against her window.
It was one of those days.
It reminded her of the weather in Hanover that summer. A whole summer full of chill cloudy grey days. Days and days of sweaters in summer, umbrellas in schoolbags. She had never experienced such a lack of sunshine—weatherwise, that is, because certainly the warmth radiating from the sunny smiles she saw first thing in the morning lasted ‘til night dropped Her cloak. She wondered at times: how would things have been different if Hanover had had a lake and a beach and hot sun that summer?
Looking out her window, she thought back to the day they had left Austria. Samira, Fatemeh, Poopak and she had traveled by train to Vienna, where they spent three surprisingly sunny days. But the day they returned back to Hanover had started off just like today. The morning of the day they left Vienna, she and Fatemeh, who had been staying at Nagwa's small apartment at the end of the subway line, looked out the window.
It was cold and grey; the sky was cloudy and there was a strong wind. A bend-the-tree-tops kind of wind. But it wasn't raining. Yet. So she and Fatemeh looked at each other and thought, why not? They would head downtown later to meet Samira and Poopak to catch the train back to Hanover. And out they went, walking briskly arm in arm, along the rushing waters and the rustling leaves. The further they walked the more silent they became.
They strode, matching step to step. They found themselves walking along a canal of the Danube.
Suddenly, the urge to sing came upon them. Fatemeh pleaded, sing the laundry song!
"My laundry song, now?"
Yes, you said, you wanted to memorize the words and the tune and keep it in your heart for when you got back to Iran and found yourself walking alone on a downcast day. You took out your little leatherbound notebook and scribbled down the words as we sang.
"The river is flowing,
rolling and flowing,
The river is flowing
down to the sea
“Yes, Mother Earth…
Mother Earth, carry me,
your child I’ll always be,
Mother Earth, carry me,
down to the sea…”
By then we’d looped around the path by the canal and reached the end of our time by the water. We crossed the street to the bus stop. As we hurried to the shelter, heavy drops of rain began to warn us of the day ahead.
A small woman, her silver grey hair neatly coiffed under a dark blue hat, stood at the other end of the bus shelter. She, too, was waiting to catch the morning bus. She was off to church, as it looked like she had her good coat on and she was wearing her good shoes and carrying her good purse. And it was Sunday. And it was early morning.
Fatemeh and I huddled together in the corner of the bus shelter, leaning close together, heads touching, whispering our song so that Fatemeh could press the tune into a corner of her mind.
Our whisperings carried above the rush of the wind, over the beat of the rain spangling the glass. I turned to the old woman in blue and said, "I hope we're not bothering you. Don’t mind us. We're just enjoying our last morning here in Vienna, despite the wind and the clouds and the rain. We're unexpectedly happy. We’re singing a song together. It’s a simple song, actually. It’s a song about the River."
"Oh no, girls. Please," she answered in delicately accented English, smiling warmly, eager for the smiles of strangers to break the grey hold of the morning. "Please, go ahead. I don't mind. Truly, you sound lovely. I was enjoying the sound of you girls singing. Don't mind me. Please,” she said, placing both her gloved hands on the clasp of her blue purse. “I was thinking to myself, how nice to hear two young women singing together on a rainy Sunday morning.”
Waving her purse in our direction and stepping away from us, she pleaded, “Please, girls. Don’t mind me. Keep singing.”