I asked my friend, Fitta, to give me a proverb.
I’ve been hunting for proverbs in books, magazines and online. I’ve consulted sugar sachets from Spain; I’ve discovered the wisdoms of the Akans; and I’ve learned that these clever turns of phrase which express universal truths may not themselves be universal.
My recent interest in acquiring words from sources of sagacity is academic (research for a project). However, this quest may or may not be unrelated to the marking of a so-called ‘milestone’ birthday.
An anniversary that elicited an insight from my eldest brother. The previous milestone, he said, was all about having to admit that you’re not young anymore. This one was much better: I wouldn’t have to give a damn about being childish anymore. The Outing of the Inner Child!
Not having many friends in our new home city (except for the postman and builder and corner shop owner), celebrations have been kept simple with a weekend away. The first time in a few months that all six of us have been together.
Bliss. Until I sought the significance in things. Such as when I took a big breath and drew back the curtains of our apartment on my birthday morning (having arrived the previous evening in the dark): I’m tired, I’m old, but … what inspiration will I find in the view to equip me for this new decade?
Nor was the weather kind (although we didn’t have it as bad/good as this gathering did, stuck in the UK’s highest pub for the weekend – they are now free to go, whether they want to or not). Nor did the headline of a Star Trek-sounding coronavirus Variant of Concern help (Omicron is actually eleven letters away from Delta in the alphabetical progression of COVID-19, but it was all Greek to me on Saturday).
Nevertheless, it was my birthday. I would shake off this solopsistic pursuit of symbolism – this was going to be a brilliant day. I also decided not to growl at my second son for partying the night before with his big brother and sending me multiple messages in the early hours to say that he was … “fine” … “staying somewhere else for the night” … “don’t worry, Mum” … “Happy Birthday!” … before crashing home at 3am and being really, really LOUD.
Instead, I dragged him out and enjoyed watching him pretend not to have a hangover as we wandered the lanes of Norwich. We stopped at every church (a multitude) and at every stall at the market. I took more photos than was necessary while he huddled beside me, hood up. He make the mistake of yawning once, and almost said he was wiped out, but stopped with a smile, saying that now I was old I was probaby much more tired than him. That nearly cost him his coffee.
But he was right – I did feel my age. A weekend away was a great idea, but the focus was on my newly-notched number. In my head, seconds flashed forward the future in a confusion of colourful polygons, and a creepy-calm voice counted until the shapes formed 100 and I was declared a Pure Star Kid able to Subscribe for More.
Unsettled, I made do with an afternoon nap on a too-short sofa and was afflicted with HOGO in the evening (although the trek through the wind and rain to a restaurant specialising in Galician and Basque cuisine was worth it. There was manchego, chorizo, octopus and padrón peppers and we sipped jammy PX. I almost forgot my years).
Back home on Sunday, my birthday was over. The kids unloaded their dirty washing ‘for me’, asked when supper would be and left me to the usual routine. A relief. I’d reached a milestone and nothing had changed.
I set off in the gloaming to the DNA path (trying to read no meaning in either nature’s signing off for the day or the double helix of life). As I walked, the sky grew darker, cyclists sped faster, and a railway worker intructed me to move out of the way or I’d risk having rocks sprinkled on me by an over-sized dumper truck. I felt like a child.
So I tested the temperature by making clouds with my breath, and I raced the dusk to get home before nightfall.
My brother wasn’t kidding. Here comes The Inner Child. Wise words are welcome, but I may as well have fun while I find them.
Fitta’s came back to me with his proverb:
‘Chikomekome cha nkhuyu mkati muli nyerere.‘ which he translates as “All that glitters is not gold.”
But the literal translation is: “If you break the lovely looking figs you may find ants inside.”