The woman in the barber shop knew why.
No, I confessed, I hadn’t heard anything. Well, yes, I noticed the helicopter earlier, twice making a low approach over the neighbourhood, sending flocks of birds into panicked flight before it settled behind the houses up Uxbridge way. The traffic too, when I crossed the street just now, yes, that was curious: abnormally quiet, like an early Sunday morning.
‘He died,’ said the other one sitting at the back, the one I always hope won’t serve me, her face basking in the white glow of her cellphone as she checked the local news. “Speeding. Hit a bit of ice on the road. There’s a woman here says her son saw it happen. The roads are blocked off.’ She started reading from a social media post, her stubby Brexit-loving fingers flicking upward repeatedly as she scrolled.
Siva, the Indian man who owns the corner grocer, had a different story: a car slid and hit someone off their bicycle, but everyone was okay. “Just like your wife!” he said, recalling Renata’s cycling accident in February. “Very dangerous here. Not like Canada. Small roads; no space. You need a car!”
After lunch the weight in my heart drove me into my walking shoes and out to the autumn sun. I switched off my work phone.
It wasn’t the confused local news story weighing me down, as tragic as that is too. No, for me the day began with a message from beloved friends who have suffered their own tragic loss. Suddenly London is not to me the centre-of-the-known-universe; no, it is an outpost at the edge of empire, all at once too far away, too remote, the wrong place for what this moment requires.
I pause to look up at the O-My-God-Oak, recalling the wonder of my granddaughter this time last year and feeling my throat cramp up as I fight back the tears. Life is so fragile, it too often makes no sense.
I’m making chilli tonight. We never got around to shopping when we returned from Wales last weekend and we’re testing the limits of our pantry. But I know there was a can of beans when I last looked.
I stop in at the Shell station cum Waitrose express shop for a tin of tomatoes and a jar of tomato sauce. Expensive here, but it’s just two things. Herbs and spices, I have. Cooking, as with art, and life, is richer for its layers. Acidity, sweetness, depth of flavour.
Traffic is running normal again, bumper to bumper. Life goes on, even when it doesn’t.
‘O Marguerite, my sister, while I, in my devotion to the positive forces in the universe, was roaming over continents and oceans, my whole being passionately taken up in watching the rise of all the earth’s tints and shades, you, stretched out motionless on your bed of sickness, were silently transforming into light, deep within yourself, the most grievous shadows of the world. Tell me, in the eyes of the Creator, which of us will have chosen the better part?’ – Teilhard de Chardin, Paris, 8 January 1950.