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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

No Response Required

She had no concept of time, didn't wear a watch, and yet, no one seemed to mind her cottony ideas of time and punctuality. It was as if the world made allowances for her which the rest of us did not get.

You might think this would breed resentment.

But in that inscrutably British way of never doing something just because it's merely accepted, all of us wanted to pamper her, indulge her, excuse her perhaps. At heart, we knew there was not an ounce of malice in her, and that's something so rare in this world, that when you find it, you hold it fast like a red fête balloon on a string.

I was the new girl in school, a myriad of new sensations which would overwhelm most 10 year-olds, ran riot inside me that first day.

The coldness of the halls.

The dank odours of the overpolished wood.

The leathery hand of the Headmistress.

The itchiness of my new uniform ("mind you place two packets of starch in the wash. We check the uniforms every morning against a ruler's stiffness to see you've followed our instructions").

The cold shoulder of the Lower Third as I passed them ("her mother's German").

As was the case with all new experiences, I drank in every second every moment, going over them in mind even as events had yet not finished in their entirety. I reviewed them a million times in my mind, hoping to unlock their mysteries as I went along.

It was then that I saw her at a distance. Somewhat lean, but not too. A sturdy child, my old nanny would've said. Tall, even then. Blonde, but with a hint of its inevitable darkening given a few years of adolescence. She was a part of the group, and yet not.

Penelope. Penny. Pen.

We weren't allowed to address each other by surnames, since it was thought titles or the children of the famous would make us shy towards each other, but I soon found out her great-grandfather (or so) was a Scottish Duke, who used to place a hundred pound note on his wife's pillow every morning, and once bought a Swiss mountain as a birthday present, well, because he could.

All these facts I would learn slowly, as she was as charry as I was about sharing any confidence with strangers. I learned the trick of opening myself up as I grew older, but she always retained the slight air of mystery of those who think revelation is part-imposition, part-self-obsession. It wasn't her style.

What was her style was going against all the ways of her kind.

If they liked polo at Windsor and the laziness of the Henley Regatta, she reviled them. If they mocked the working classes' accents, she appropriated a Cockney one convincingly. If they decried football, it was her passion. If the whole world hated Millwall, that was her favourite team.

She lost her virginity the first of all of us. She took up yoga. She was converted to Roman Catholicism, which made her mother's set blanch in horror. She had a passion for the punk scene. But she studied Gregorian chants, praised the works of Barbara Cartland as part of pop culture which no one understands, and championed the growth of the internet, becoming computer literate before any of us mini-Luddites welcomed computers as one might one's father's illegitimate child.

After Oxford (Exeter, one of the unfashionable colleges, just as one might expect from her), she was offered a job at Cathay Pacific, and since she had been born in Hong Kong, when her father had been a Gurkha major stationed there, she returned to her birthplace, still rather vague, but wanting to drink all the sensations of this earth before she died.

Her favourite phrase this.

One day, I received a telegramme (for some people, my parents amongst them, emails do not exist) from her mum. I don't recall what it said entirely, but it read something like this:

"Penelope disappeared. Private investigators searched 6 months. Missing from job, 8 months. No response required."

I remembered her mother from her Parents Day visits. I remembered how her veins stood out, against a lilly-white hand. I can imagine her writing this telegramme matter-of-factly, "no response required", thank you. No need for emotions to be dredged up. We've given up looking. Such is life.

At that moment, I had a flashback to a childhood scene, Penelope and I under an impossibly verdant tree just as spring term approached.

We were talking about her father who had died when she was young, about my mother and her amazing loyalty to me, about important things which are silly, about silly things which are important...but suddenly she grew quiet, and started crying, something I had never seen before, and it gripped me with a fear like the first time I saw my father cry.

What is wrong, I choked out at last. How I envy you, she said, now quietly. Envy ME? Why, she had the world in the palm of her hand. Everyone loved her and thought her brilliant.

Those are all externals. I don't what you have, something which is deep inside you, which others drink their life to get, or sleep with faceless people trying to remember, or inject themselves trying to attain, or just lose themselves in boredom, a life spent.

"Because you were born satisfied."

No response required.

6 Comments:

  • No response required.

    You do not seem to be that dispassionate.

    I wanted to let you know that this was a very powerful piece for me for to finish off the day with, made more so by the music I happend to be listening to when I was reading. I just had to let you know before I can retire for the evening.

    I am also reading "satisfied" as a reference to being anchored, self aware rather than the static connotation as was my initial impression.

    Or perhaps these are things you are pondering with your writing.

    To sleep, perchance to dream,
    Ay, there's the rub.

    By Blogger Lawrence, at Wed Nov 16, 03:31:00 am GMT-5  

  • "Penelope disappeared. Private investigators searched 6 months. Missing from job, 8 months. No response required."

    How sad!!! Very powerful piece. I think our attitudes are molded since a very early age, not genetically inherited. So neither Penelope nor Victoria were born satisfied, but they grew with very different support systems. Victoria's mother's loyalty to her reminds me of my mother! Gracias Mami!

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Wed Nov 16, 08:38:00 am GMT-5  

  • You do not seem to be that dispassionate.

    I'm not. I'm very passionate.

    But in my own way -- I'm not the kind of woman to flail, to make scenes, to rip my hair, in public or private.

    I suppose I have a lot more in common with Penelope's mother, than I'd like to think I do...

    I wanted to let you know that this was a very powerful piece for me for to finish off the day with, made more so by the music I happend to be listening to when I was reading. I just had to let you know before I can retire for the evening.

    Thank you, Lawrence. I find that touchingly rare, and loving. :)

    What were you listening to at the time, if you don't mind my asking?

    I am also reading "satisfied" as a reference to being anchored, self aware rather than the static connotation as was my initial impression.

    Hmm, well it could be. I didn't ask her, because you don't want to break the moment by asking questions (that's also a British "thing").

    But I took it to mean something else.

    That I was born placid, easily pleased, content.

    And she, as well as many other people in this world who search and search for themselves, taking up new enthusiasms, wanting to see new places, trying to find themselves in these disparate adventures...was not.

    Or perhaps these are things you are pondering with your writing.

    Yes. That is my way of circumventing the uncurious part of my outward nature.

    It's a search from within, by within.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Wed Nov 16, 01:33:00 pm GMT-5  

  • How sad!!!

    4 years and counting...

    Very powerful piece.

    Thanks, Jose. :)

    I think our attitudes are molded since a very early age, not genetically inherited.

    Alas, there I have to disagree with you, Jose.

    I am not the kind of person who believes in 100% nature, nor 100% nurture.

    But genetics for me...is huge.

    My mother and I were discussing how, despite our political viewpoints being stark opposites, I am my father's EXACT double. It's scary sometimes.

    So neither Penelope nor Victoria were born satisfied, but they grew with very different support systems.

    That is true. But then, she had 3 sisters, and 1 brother (who however, is a drug addict), and none were like her.

    Victoria's mother's loyalty to her reminds me of my mother! Gracias Mami!

    Si!

    My mother is a mystery to me. Her fiercely loyal nature...a wonder of the ages.

    Although I never told her, she once got to know that a girl in my class at school was bullying me.

    So she showed up at the school unannounced, walked up to the girl, and slapped her.

    "Don't ever be mean to my daughter again"

    I don't know many mothers who would do that. Especially not today, in the US, with their lawsuits...

    P.S.: She never bullied me again, but in future, I took care of my own battles -- because I knew I had my mother's support totally behind me.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Wed Nov 16, 01:42:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Well, darn! I envy you too. Perhaps not for her reasons. No Response Wanted.
    I do wonder why I am drawn to places where people of great intellect, knowledge and philosophy dwell. Good places to learn, with my dictionary nearby; if only I could be quiet.

    By Blogger Paul, at Wed Nov 16, 02:21:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I think of the nature/nurture divide like the distinction between cars and drivers. You could put me in that '50's Ferrari and I couldn't outdrive Fangio or Sterling Moss; but would they beat me in that Ferrari giving them a Mazda Station Wagon?
    Cars maybe ultimately more significant, but drivers matter also...

    By Blogger Ron, at Wed Nov 16, 02:24:00 pm GMT-5  

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