Thursday, 23 May 2013

Aunty Gita

I always begin her story by telling people that she taught herself to speak english by reading many, many mills & boon novels. They lined the bookshelf in her sitting room and had titles like 'Forgiven but not Forgotten', 'The Darkest Seduction', 'One Breath Away' and 'Temptation Island'. She trained in fashion in Czechoslovakia. She made pretty much all of the clothes that my three cousins wore and even made the skirt in this picture. She could make the most ornate and decorative and complicated styles but always chose the simplest for herself. She named her alpha male cat 'Ugly' and would tell him what an arrogant, pushy male he was whilst serving him a three egg omelette. She once hung a dead rat up outside of her building because she said it was too pretty to bury. I knew then that she was no ordinary woman and I stared at her admiringly as she smiled at me and said in her heavy czech accent, 'you understand katinka, yes?'. She would make a pineapple cheesecake every sunday and I would often be playing in my garden just next door and would smell its sweetness from afar. If she could hear me she would shout an invitation for me to make my way round through the blue painted iron gates that formed the entrance to my second home. She taught me to play 'Halma' and once spent an entire afternoon filling the underside of each individual pawn with a little cement so that the pawn's wouldn't blow over when we played the game outside, which we would often do for hours upon end. She always said that coffee was not a drink for the young and that it was something for adults, so when I do have a really strong shot of the dark stuff, in my mind I raise my cup to this great lady. I knew back then that life had not worked out quite as planned for this woman with so much passion, so much of the utterly indescribable but delicious 'something something' but even then as a five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten year old I knew she was making the most of each and every day, each and every moment. She couldn't help it, she was just built that way. I still think of our last day spent together, where I had her all to myself. She knew I was returning to England and took me into Accra just the two of us. We had never had such an outing before, we were always safely behind the blue painted iron gates. I knew then that it was a day to remember. That day she lavished me with attention and gifts that blew me away. Fan ice was not something I got to experience day-to-day, it was pure disneyland stuff! I kept catching her eye, she was just staring at me and smiling. She seemed so happy to be spoiling me but I remember feeling slightly anxious that she was spending so much money when I knew it didn't come her way easily. Now, as a grown up I realise that she was saying goodbye, she was drinking me in. I'm sure she knew then the seriousness of my father's illness and perhaps even that he was going to die. I imagine now that the sadness that she was tinged with was with knowing all that was to come, both for me and my family and in particular my mother. I think I have shared some of these memories of Aunty Gita here before, it's hard to know though because these memories come in waves with such gentle yet blurry regularity that I may have just imagined I wrote it here. It could be one of the times I've told those boys of mine 'things I remember from when I was little', which is a title of a game we play whenever they are restless at bedtime and need some extra time with mama. I still feel her so close, I can hear her words, how she talked all the time under her breath in Czech, how she would talk me through things she wanted me to do, still in czech but gesturing wildly to help explanations along. She was one of those warrior women, like the kind you read about in amazing books you find in charity shops unexpectedly. I like to call her 'Gita the Warrior', her story is pretty amazing.

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