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?

Home (South Africa) - - HELLO -

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.

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