Last words from Karin Brynard
In the Bible, theft is more or less equated with murder and similar sins. Too true, says Karin Brynard, but what if sometimes, maybe just now and then, it’s an act of reverse-love?
AA man with two life-sized cement flamingos in his trolley was standing ahead of me in the queue at our local garden centre. There was also a cement frog sporting an umbrella and a roguish garden gnome with excessively large nostrils.
The man saw the look on my face. I tried to look away, but the dwarf’s nostrils had hypnotised me.
“Ja-nee,” he said, “this is what happens when the whole damn country’s copper wire is all gone.” Excuse me? “Cable theft. There’s nothing left to steal, so the thieves are switching to this kind of stuff.” He pointed with his chin to the cement creations in his trolley. “You cannot bloody believe it.”
“Eish,” was all I could offer. But I knew exactly what he meant. People steal for all sorts of reasons, ranging from genuine hunger to greed or just plain wickedness. But sometimes people simply get their wires crossed... as often happens when we age.
The latter is the cross I bear. I looked at the contents of my own trolley: six Echeverias, two aloes, one large grapevine, two giant butterfly orchids. This was penance for another’s theft – a gentle old lady of 93, sadly short of some of her marbles: my Mom.
In her dotage, she’s changed from model member of the old age home to thief. She steals mainly plants. From the garden, from verandas, from hallways. She once was unofficial gardener at the home, forever collecting and nursing cuttings, planting and watering them by hand. She visited the sick and welcomed new arrivals with flowers, prayers and tea.
But lately the lines between giving and taking have started to blur; she’s turned from household saint to benign old grey-crowned house crow.
One day I arrived there to a bit of a commotion. A giant grapevine that had sprawled up two storeys was lying on the ground. Dismayed residents and staff were standing around perplexed (think Humpty Dumpty and the king’s geriatric brigade).
I spotted my mother’s stooped figure, scuttling away with a grapevine twig in the basket of her walking frame.
Sister Joan, the health manager, looked at me with wide eyes. “Good grief,” she said. “Your mom has turned into a regular Samson! What’s next – Tarzan?” I thought it was hilarious but noticed no one was laughing. Thus far, her ‘damage’ had been limited to plump succulents, the odd rosebush or a few hen-and-chickens, here and there. And she’d been tolerated good-naturedly because they adore her. But Tannie Tarzan may have been ‘a bridge too far’. I marched after my mother. She was in her flatlet busy arranging the grapevine twig in an old empty coffee jar with some yanked off clivias and a few torn-off fern fronds. Happy as a lark. “Mom!” Cheerfully she looked up, not a hint of guilt or shame. “Did you pull down the vine?” “Me? I just plucked off a sprig.” “Tore it down, more like it.” “Silly child. If it’s down, it must have jumped off by itself.” She held up the quirky arrangement. “Lovely, isn’t it?” I took the jar from her and kissed her. Then went to appease Sister Joan and promised that I’d pay the handyman to fix the grapevine and also buy two new ones. Poor Sister Joan. The previous time, it had almost ended up with the police being called in when my mother spotted a “peculiar little black box on a cord” lying next to a wall plug in the hallway. She’d picked it up “because just now someone might trip over it.” It turned out to be the handyman’s cellphone. Huffily he’d stormed into my mother’s flat, only to reappear as docile as a lamb. He had been welcomed like the Messiah and left not only with his phone, but also with a coffee-stained Bible bookmark and an orange. And a hug. Once Sister Joan caught her with a freshly-planted spekboom in the basket of her walker. “It jumped in there by itself,” was her cheerful explanation. But these days she doesn’t steal that much anymore. Twilight is catching up with her. My trolley at the garden centre no longer brims with guilt-offerings and a kind of impending sorrow has crept into my soul. Because the day will come, I know full well, when I will sorely miss this dear old thief.