Soraya was not her real name, but it’s close to it. She was as beautiful as Persian Queen Soraya, and also had some of the fine-boned quality of that Queen’s successor, Farah Diba . Strikingly beautiful however you looked at her.
She came from one of those Asian countries like Uzbekistan. Her husband came here alone to set up a new life for his wife and daughter, and went back after 18 months to fetch them. Two weeks after returning, he left them. She lived with their daughter in a tiny student type flat, and mother and daughter shared a mattress on the floor of the bedroom.
She crossed my path when she met someone close to me, through the internet. The friendship didn’t last long, as he found her rigid Muslim beliefs hard to stomach. But a few weeks later I had a shattered phone call saying she’d rung to tell him she had breast cancer. He couldn’t cope, so I told him I’d see to it.
I rang her to say I would help her, and then spent a day on the phone ringing every sort of agency to try to get advice, support and friendship for her. She was always outside the area, or didn’t qualify. Finally I found a church group, who also felt the situation wasn’t something they couldn’t assist with, but I hung in, until I got them to agree that they would become responsible for getting her little girl to kindy, so that Soraya didn’t have the long journey to and fro on public transport twice a day.
I lived too far out of town to be able to do anything practical, but I went to see her. Her situation was shocking. She had just started chemo, and had spent the night vomiting, with the little girl crying in fright beside her. The second time I was there, an elderly lady arrived from kindy with the daughter. She was the person I’d spoken to on the phone, but was too distracted to take in my presence.
The next step was my daughter. Eugenie is the most capable person I’ve come across, simultaneously starting the international Arts Festival in this city, which she now chairs, being on the City Council, first woman on countless committees and boards, as well as editing and writing parenting magazines and being president of kindergarten organisations and a dozen other pies, bringing up her children and supporting family in countless ways. She’s also kind and intuitive.
I arranged to bring Soraya to meet her for lunch in a restaurant in the park. We sat in the sunshine with my daughter who, to my amazement, was wearing a long chestnut wig instead of her own dark hair. All became clear when she began talking to Soraya about chemotherapy, and how it’s okay to wear a wig, and still look beautiful.
Eugenie then took charge of the situation. She badgered the welfare authorities until they found a charming little two story cottage for Soraya in a nice area near a good school, and arranged all sorts of subsidies to help with transport and all the extra expenses outside her hospital treatment. (Thank heavens for free medical care)
She texted the mothers at her son’s school, and gathered together furniture for the house, while an interior decorator mother lent her van to move the stuff. One morning some of the fourteen year olds in my grandson’s class came to transport Soraya and her things from the squalid flat to her new home. I taxied her and her little girl, and did homely things like providing curtains, bedding and fridge. We made a pretty girly bedroom for the little daughter.
Eugenie took Soraya to hospital for her operations, wept with her, hugged her, and set about finding people to support her. The lady from the church kept in touch, and the church rallied round and came to visit and help where they could. Soraya was very dubious about getting close to Christians, and I would endlessly tell her that the test of being with people was how loving they were, not what name they gave to the Creator, whether it was Allah, Jehovah, God or Great Spirit. Their kindness eventually wore down her doubts.
It was election time, and they took her to a meeting of candidates. There, among the other men who swooned when they saw this exotic beauty in the little church hall, was a rich lawyer, well known for his good deeds, who made a bee-line for her. He courted Soraya, and wanted to marry her, but she was so brave that she refused because she didn’t love him. He never gave up, and was always there for her for the next five years. She made friends and did the things she had only dreamed of doing back in her poverty- stricken country. She even shopped till she dropped, found another house she preferred, and lived her life every minute of every day in between the debilitating spells in hospital.
When we moved to this place, I was too far away to stay connected, but kept in touch occasionally, especially when she was in hospital. Finally she did fall in love, and moved into a luxurious house, which gave her enormous pleasure. But the lawyer was still part of her life, and a few weeks before the end he took her to a grand party at Parliament House in Wellington. They ended up going to lots more grand parties, because someone else fell madly in love with her, and invited them to everything that was going. Soraya was in seventh heaven. In spite of all the pain and misery, she felt she was living a glamorous fairy- tale life. From a standing start she’d created this for herself in just a few years. In the photographs she blazed with happiness and joie de vivre.
Back home, she was on the last leg of her long journey. When she died, and Eugenie and all my family went to her funeral, held in the church which had taken her in, we found it was full. Her first husband was there with their daughter, and in one of the mysteries of life, told us how Soraya had been his best friend. His second wife was still in hospital having given birth in the same hospital as Soraya, on the same day that she had died.
One by one each person told the story of their time with Soraya, and the elderly lady told hers, how this persistent social worker had rung her, and because she wouldn’t give up, finally she’d agreed to involve her church group. Afterwards I told her that I was the persistent person, not a social worker. The pastor was there, and was fascinated at having found the missing link.
I said to him sadly, that I always felt that I never did enough for her. You and everyone else, he replied. Everyone gave what they could, and then when they faltered, the next person was there in line for her; each person told him they felt guilty that they hadn’t given enough, and yet what they had to give was perfect, and the timing was right for them and Soraya. He gave me peace of mind, as I’m sure he gave others.
Soraya was, and is, a reminder of the inscrutable mystery of every person’s life and how we can never know the meaning of another’s journey. She was so vulnerable and frightened one moment, and in the next, so determined to wring the last ounce of joy out of life. She was infuriating, obstinate and single minded, and generous, gay and gorgeous. She faced her devastating challenges with courage and unquenchable spirit. What magnificence.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets.
When I made the pear and almond tart the other day, I was disappointed with it. But the pastry, with no rubbing or rolling was all that I’d hoped for. This time I’m going to make it and use it for a tarte au citron, for my husband’s birthday lunch. This is the easy- peasy pastry recipe.
The trick is the melted butter. You need 125 grammes of the butter, and when melted and cooled, pour it into a bowl with 100 grammes of sugar, two tablespoons of ground almonds, a pinch of salt, a few drops of almond essence and a few drops of vanilla essence or half a teaspoons of vanilla sugar. Stir to combine, then mix in 180 grammes of self raising flour. Press out into a nine or ten inch tart dish which has been buttered and lined with baking paper, or buttered and floured. You don’t need to prick it or weight it. Bake at 180 degrees for about ten minutes, or until the dough is just slightly puffy and a very pale brown. Take it out and fill with your chosen filling, and bake as directed. Make sure there are no holes or cracks, or the filling will run out!
Food for Thought
I celebrate myself…
I am larger, better than I thought.
I did not know I held so much goodness.
Walt Whitman. 1819 – 1892 Controversial American poet, who served as a volunteer nurse during the Civil War.