I have an elderly neighbour. We have a signal: each morning I look to see whether she has pulled her curtains. Then I know she is all right. This became less important after she had three falls followed by two operations and acquired a St John alarm, as well as home help to call in three times daily. Still, every morning I look to see the curtains are pulled. I go across whenever I am able and we have a cup of coffee. Often I cannot walk that far but I try to manage at least once a week.
She arrived in New Zealand with her eldest daughter sixty-five years ago, soon after the New Zealand government allowed Chinese wives to immigrate. She speaks a Chinese dialect and her English is limited but her ability to capture difficult concepts with the words she does know frequently takes my breath away, they are so poetic. What a poet she would have made had she only learnt to read and write. My only language is English but we mime at times and laugh a lot. She gave birth to twelve more children and worked in her husband’s market garden. She cannot manage the garden she has now, but for years I would see her out there for hours – small wonder her garden and house were immaculate. They put mine to shame. Once house-proud, now I value poetry above dust.