Recently, I was invited by my niece to have lunch together. An offer which I happily accepted not because of the food per se but moreso because of the prospect of having time with her alone – something which I’ve not had the chance to do till now.
She had planned for us to have Vietnamese food together – a first for me. I’ve had Chinese, Thai, Indonesian and Japanese dishes before but never Vietnamese. I must confess, it was a very satisfying meal. Just for the record, I had summer rolls – noodles and veggies wrapped in thin rice paper – followed by a generous bowl of tofu pho. To add to the new experience, I also tried Vietnamese coffee – rich and dreamy. The new culinary experience was definitely a hit with me.
But beyond the food alone, the ambience of the place was so calming and quaint that for a moment I forgot I was in London. The restaurant was also located right opposite the driving test centre where, many many years ago, a young teenage girl had emerged triumphant from her test. Little did she realise that she’d be sitting in a quirky eatery a stone’s throw away many moons later with her first-born grown-up niece. To see that place again took me full circle and in a few seconds, my life story flashed in quick successive images in my mind’s eye. I can confidently say it’s been one amazing journey even with all the bumps, scrapes and detours.
Sitting opposite my niece, the first child to be born amongst my own siblings and myself, was also another realisation of the passage of time. This young woman, who has matured into adulthood and independence, was once the baby who I had the pleasure of spending many countless days with watching her grow and develop. Today, the tables have turned. Instead, here I was accepting her invitation to indulge me and take the lead. I admit having fleeting moments where I was sitting there but asking myself how thirty years had passed by so quickly. How had I watched this young woman grow up? To think of all the things I’ve done and places I’ve been to and yet, I’m grateful to have kept my finger on the pulse of others’ lives and to have been a witness to their journeys too, Alhamdulillah.
To have had the rare chance to sit and talk together without any interruptions was just lovely. Almost as if I had been given the opportunity to say ‘hello’ properly and really get to know what has been going on in my niece’s life. Coming together in a world where everyone is so busy is a wonderful thing. We are all too ready to send detached, robotic messages with our fingers on phones but not with any real depth from the heart. It is often too taxing to talk. The irony is we are all connected but detached at the same time. So, to sit across a table and have personalised human interactions, where we can make better inferences from the intonations of the voice and the expressions on the face, is a time to cherish.
Perhaps older age has mellowed me a little but I know for those people in my life still, I value their presence and not just as a deadweight contact on my phone. There has to be real and meaningful interactions whereby we enrich each other’s lives and are a constructive element rather than a wearisome force. I’ve learnt to weed out those whose presence has been nothing but debilitating on my state of mind. No qualms about cutting ties there. They are excess baggage that can be reclaimed by someone else.