My eldest daughter has been having an extended holiday with us, thanks to her partner's long service leave. Next week, they're off back to the Northern Territory, and I don't know when I'll see her again.
We've crammed a lot into the time, but somehow it never seems long enough. Last week, we decided to have a mother/daughter day, and she and I went up to town together.
First we shopped for birthday presents, trying to find a make up bag for the other daughter/sister. and a copy of Winnie the Pooh for my granddaughter. (I actually found a nice copy in what's left of the book department in David Jones! Very much looking forward to reading her the first few chapters before she goes.)
Then we had lunch at the Portrait Gallery - delicious; and we looked at all the nice things in the extremely nice shop there. Bought a couple more birthday presents.
Then we went to the Tom Roberts exhibition. It was blissfully quiet. We talked softly together about the paintings of Rickett's Point and Mentone, and I told her about how her Dad and I used to spend hours on those bayside beaches as teenagers. I stared at the brown, muddy rocks in the painting, remembering how soft and crumbly they are. I could almost feel the texture of them, and the briny smell of the tame little waves. The little figures were doing just the same things we used to do, paddling, sitting on the rocks, picking up shells.
We admired the portraits, gesturing to each other to come and look at our latest finds. 'You can feel how thick her hair is!' 'What an extraordinary face!' 'How respectful he seems to be towards all those women he painted!'
She wandered into the Childrens' Activity Room, and didn't come out for a long time. I found a chair and sat, thankfully, and gazed at a picture of boulders above a pool in the bush, and a horse looking strangely discomposed in one corner, (he has apparently just heard a shot fired, I read later!) I wondered how TR had managed to paint the HEAT. My daughter came out eventually, very pleased with herself, as she'd spent the time making a birthday card for her little girl.
As we left the exhibition, she took my hand - she often does this when we're walking in the street. She said how glad she was that she had seen the paintings, - thanks to my persistence, she said.
We stopped in Manuka, me to Coles, flagging a bit now, thinking of what supplies we needed to take home, while she had a last look for the make up bag. It was not to be found, but another gift was. I waited outside the shop, while the assistant made a major performance out of wrapping it up. We made faces at each other through the glass, it was taking so long. 'Like Rowan Atkinson in that scene from Love Actually' we giggled when she came out.
She had to stop at the bank in Woden. I waited for her outside again, watching the people going past. An elderly woman was approaching, she would have been in her late 70's perhaps. She had seen me before I saw her. She was looking straight into my face, and smiling a searching, gentle smile. I smiled back, and she walked right up to me.
'I was looking at you,' she said, 'and I thought for a moment you were my mother. But my mother's dead, of course.'
She touched my arm softly; she was leaning in towards me, her face quite close.
'Oh, I'm sorry I wasn't!' I said.
We both laughed quietly, as if we were old friends. There was a sort of confusion of hands and arms as I touched her too. Then she walked on.
It has happened to me, of course. Once it was the hair of a woman sitting with her back to me at a concert. Soft, greying, close cropped waves, exactly so, but the moment she moved her head the illusion was lost. Once it was a whole person, a little woman in a crowd, walking briskly, her face turned away from me. Again, the rush of recognition dissolved in a heartbeat.
When my daughter came out of the bank, she took my hand.
'Let's have a coffee,' she said, 'before we head home.'
I didn't mention my encounter with the elderly daughter.