Whenever the conversation at the office was on family life and dinner, J was never without a story. With four teenage sons, he and his wife had been there, done it all, and seen it all. Saturday dinners were his responsibility, and over the years Saturday had become Pancake Day. Being a master in efficiency he used two pans simultaneously for over an hour until the bowl with batter was empty and the pile of pancakes reached the kitchen ceiling. When everyone had gathered inside and found their seat at the table, it took the ever-hungry boys less than ten minutes to make the pancakes disappear and lick the last traces of sugar and maple syrup from their plates.
He made the story sound like some kind of weekly ritual. And to be honest, I am sure it was.
It is going to be my first job interview in 28 years. After many applications -and about as many rejections, or sometimes no reaction at all- I was thrilled to get the invitation, but today my enthusiasm is clearly less. So the past days I googled for tips and things to think of. Dress formally but make sure you feel comfortable. Check the company's website and think of a few questions you can ask so you show interest. Browse through the list that covers sixty of the most asked questions during a job interview. Sit straight and look them in the eye. Don't interrupt people. Show confidence. Do this. Don't do that. The first impression is all that matters.
A close friend texts me minutes before I'm leaving. Be sure to stand out and go for it, girl! he says.
I nod at the little screen.
Walking past our local supermarket I watch a boy approaching on his bicycle, anxiously calling for his mom. Out of breath he stops next to a lady who is busy packing her groceries into her cycle bags, and shouts: "Grandma is dead!"
The woman looks bewildered. Bystanders turn their heads, startled. The boy, ten or eleven years old, is clearly upset. "Your grandma? That can't be. I saw her an hour ago. Grandma is dead? My god! What happened!?"
His voice falters when he claims he doesn't know. Just that dad sent him to find her and tell about grandma. Tears start to trickle down his cheeks.
She suddenly seems to realize what he is saying, and pushes the shopping trolley aside; bread, crackers and milk still in there. There is panic in her eyes as she yells to the boy that he should return home and tell his dad that she will go to the football field to pick up Matty.
I watch him leave and race across the parking lot, his left arm wiping away tears. I don't want to judge and I understand it must be the shock that caused her to react this way, but I wish she'd given her son a hug before sending him off.
With the way she articulates it's a bit hard to understand everything she says, but she seems happy to talk. I hear about her husband and that he recently got a permit for disabled parking, and how they look forward to a cream tea next Sunday organised by the home care organisation. When I compliment her on how well she worked on the rowing machine just now, she tells me about the stroke she had several years ago and that her biggest regret is not being able to ride a bicycle anymore; a number of painful falls destroyed her self-confidence.
She shrugs. "My husband is 77 and I am 76", she continues, "We must accept that we cannot do all the things we want anymore". I compliment her again, and emphasize that their visit to the gym twice a week is a very good thing to do. It doesn't matter that their workout is on a low level, or that they stay only half an hour.
During the conversation her eyes brighten up for a moment or two, and I am struck to see how different she looks when she smiles.
This month it was three years ago that I happily celebrated my 25th anniversary. There were flowers, cake, a lunch with colleagues, a speech from my boss. Thinking back of it now it seems a memory from another life. Things changed. Things changed badly and beyond imagination. The hurt that it caused was so intense that I lost myself: all that I had stood for in the past had gone. Letting go and acceptance of the situation were the things I struggled with most, but eventually the moment came that I decided enough was enough.
I bought magazines like Flow, in which creativity and imperfection are celebrated, and people tell their life stories about making a new start and how that was the best thing that ever happened to them.
It was on a Spring day in April when I knew I was ready to face the world: I started writing again.
Op deze eerste echte warme lentedag van het jaar zijn we toevalligerwijs aan de Noordzeekust. Zoals verwacht is het druk. De terrassen in de zon zijn overvol, die aan de overkant (nog) leeg; het verschil tussen zon en schaduw is net te groot. Vanwege de groeiende rij wachtende mensen voor de dichtsbijzijnde strandtent eten we een broodje aan de boulevard in een piepklein eetcafe. Aan ons tafeltje bij de openstaande deuren aan de schaduwkant van de straat is het af en toe rillen maar daar hebben we het vandaag niet over. Daarna terug naar het strand, met windschermen en ligstoelen waarop witte lijven zich overgeven aan de brandende zon. Vandaag moet het gebeuren, morgen is het immers weer maandag.
Ook verderop is het druk. Kinderen voetballen met hun vaders en met elkaar, of rennen met emmertjes zeewater naar zelfgebouwde forten. Honden springen uitgelaten door de branding, vachten nat en glimmend, terwijl
een groep toeristen
nadert de viskar
... komt de hoogbejaarde man me voorbij, zijn grote lichaam zwaar leunend op een rollator. Luid mompelend houdt hij een tijdje stil voor de rij vitrines van de supermarktslagerij. Als hij kort daarna in een ander gangpad naast me staat, draait hij z'n hoofd. Twee levendige ogen in een gegroefd gezicht kijken me aan.
"Wat een keus in alles toch", klinkt het hard en raspend, "ik hoorde m'n kop er net van kraken!"
Ik grijns en antwoord dat hij in dat geval maar het beste voorzichtig aan kan doen, waarop hij met een bulderende lach verder schuifelt.