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Reading Aloud 2

Aunt Maisie

Every time I see her, she asks after Johnie’s wife because it was Johnie’s wife who introduced me to her and paid her visits, too, which she hasn’t done for a long time, now.
Johnie’s wife is very busy with a university course, I have often explained this to Aunt Maisie. How does she cope with her housework, Aunt Maisie wonders. If she’s out all day, who does the housework? I venture that maybe there isn’t a lot. There are the tops in the kitchen, Aunt Maisie says. They’re quickly done, I answer. There’s the bathroom, Aunt Maisie remarks, raising her right forefinger. I can’t deny it. Fortunately I am in a position to inform her that Johnie’s house is no less tidy than ours. And I’m at home all day ! I also remembered what Johnie’s wife told me about her husband. His job is of such a nature that he is at home not infrequently during the day. He has the garden to keep him busy, but when that’s done … he sometimes doesn’t know, I understand, how to occupy himself. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for Johnie to make himself useful … in the house, for example ?
Aunt Maisie laughs and doesn’t think much to this suggestion. He wouldn’t like that, would he, she says. She wonders, does Johnie’s wife still work for the charity she is a member of ? She probably doesn’t have much time for that, now, Aunt Maisie reckons, showing disapproval. What does she have to go to university for, anyway, she asks, having a family and all the relevant commitments. I can remember Aldous asking the same question.

I change the subject because I have no more information to give her and inquire about her young gentleman-friend who had been ill for quite a while. He’s alright, I hear, back to normal and back to work. He works for the Sultan of Z., a very generous man, Aunt Maisie says full of admiration, who has bought an estate nearby and employs quite a few people. Her young friend had been ill for six months and not only didn’t lose his job, but had his full pay on top. And now he’s gone back. What a wonderful man, the Sultan! And look what he’s done for the village. All the money he’s given to the school, and the swimming pool he’s had built. Quite exemplary. Not like some local farmers. When people can’t work for them anymore, they’re sent away, they’re not allowed to stay on the land. They’ll be lucky, if they find a council-house or flat.

Aunt Maisie is indignant. Her husband was a farm labourer. They were lucky and found a council-house. As for the Sultan, he comes from a poor tribe, she informs me, until he stumbled on all these oil wells. Now, he’s rich. He has an agent in town over here whom he went to see recently, just for the day. Fancy doing such a journey and staying for one day! Aunt Maisie fails to comprehend.

I have to think of other foreigners, from the Far East, who have been good to this country by building a large industrial plant just where unemployment is at its worst. Nothing but praise for them. And how welcome their money! The local workforce is determined to make the venture a success. The incentive is there. Aunt Maisie fully agrees. People should do honest work instead of striking. Too much of that nowadays. The teachers have certainly got what they wanted. They should be happy with their pay. Until they want more, Aunt Maisie says, human beings are greedy.

We could go on talking for a long time, but I must think of my commitments as a housewife and mother. She understands that. I tell her that I ‘love her and leave her’. She smiles, saying, it’s lovely to see you, it really is! I promise to see her next week, get onto my bicycle and she waves after me.

My elder daughter’s boyfriend lives in the same street as Aunt Maisie. He didn’t know about our links with her and trying to explain to my daughter where his house is, he said, it’s ‘where the old phobies live’.
Aunt Maisie had her own back, unknowingly, it is true : When I told her that my daughter’s boyfriend lived in her street, ‘just opposite the police station’, she observed that ‘she should look higher than that’ …