A hand strokes her back as they walk down the hill on this warm morning, heading away from me. Giving reassurance, or seeking it? The road is steep, and the frailer figure is definitely an old woman. Her back is stroked again, and I assume that’s her daughter, with the cherry red sunhat and white runners. Similar body shapes, similar height.
I’m walking into a mall in England with Mum, July 2017, and we realize the shop she wants is up on the second floor. I know her anxiety and claustrophobia won’t let her get in a lift, and she hates escalators too.
“Shall we walk up the stairs Mum? It’s not far. I can hold your arm, or you can hold the railing?”
“Ooh, I don’t know, I hate heights. Will you help me?”
“Yes of course. Just don’t look down. Let’s talk about something to keep your mind off the height, and definitely don’t look down OK?”
The red hat leans in to whisper something, and the older woman laughs; I hear it tinkle up the hill on the spring breeze. The space between their bodies shrinks, then they move apart again, and link arms.
I put my arm through Mum’s, feeling the softness of her puffer jacket, and the thin bone beneath. At 51, I’ve never done this before. We’d never been that physically close, and I’ve lived in Australia by myself for over 30 years.
All around us in the mall, people move fast; the tinny music drapes itself on top of bland conversations, and the squeal of a cranky child creases the air.
“That’s it Mum, one foot in front of the other, and tell me how terrible you think the Conservative government is , especially your Prime Minister…”
The tarmac curves them away round the corner; they’re moving slow but steady, and I wonder if they do this everyday? Or perhaps it’s a weekly visit? The road leads past the old people’s home, where I can see multiple tiny balconies with a single chair and pot plant.
“We made it! Well done. Soon we’ll have to go down again of course.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t fuss. It’s noisy in here isn’t it? I’ve never liked shopping.”
We walk back through the lower level to catch the train home, and I keep our arms linked. We move slowly, letting people get out of our way as we fill the narrow pavement. The weak UK sun warms my face, and I breathe in the gift of this simple day, holding Mum safe.
I rub her back for a moment. Giving reassurance, or seeking it? I don’t know.
It will be another year till I’m here again; stay safe Mum.
(I wrote a longer post last year about Mum in ‘Down the long lane’ HERE)