Friday, October 15, 2010

Something for Sasha

When I met Sasha*, she was moving into a workspace near me. We sat in a four desk configuration and the fourth desk was empty. She wasn't in our dept. but needed a space and we had one. Two things about her came to mind when we met: she was very thin and, seemingly, very angry. And it was not clear to me why. Not at the beginning.

She seemed so unreceptive to friendship, even to basic conversation. We sat across from each other in a sullen silence most days. It seemed that she didn't want to be there and I was indifferent to her. So be it, I thought.

Then she began to appear at work only sporadically. At first I thought it was nothing but then I inquired quietly about her through a mutual colleague. I was told that she was undergoing (unspecified) treatment for cancer.

Talk about thunderstruck. That explained the thin and angry part I thought with humiliated chagrin.

Before Sasha left on an extended sick leave (I didn't have the guts to ask her for the specifics), she asked me to care for her plant. She noticed that I had a couple of plants on my little windowsill that faced west and got full sunlight in the afternoon.

Her plant was big and unwieldy, and, if I had to confess...ugly to look at. Dark green, flowerless leaves which seemed to be stunted in growth. And heavy. It was very heavy and sat in a large cracked plastic planter.

Sasha left; her plant stayed with me.

During her absence, I changed offices. Twice. Each time I thought it would harm the plant especially as the first move was to a gloomy spot with no natural light but I trained my desk lamp on the plant the whole time that I was at work and it seemed to revive a bit. I was terrified that I would harm it and let it die.

And every time I watered it I thought of Sasha, whom I did not really know anything about. Every once in a while I would e-mail our mutual colleague because Sasha had never returned and I didn't know if that was good or bad news. I was afraid to ask because a) I am a coward and b) it felt intrusive.

Then, a few days ago, I saw her! She had returned for a colleague's farewell party - a fancy do involving hundreds of attendees at the university faculty club. 

She had filled out and had let her long blonde hair be styled into a flattering, darker bob. Her face was fuller and prettier. She looked terrific - so terrific that, shamefully,  I failed to recognize her initially. We had not seen each other in two years.

She told me that she had one more treatment to go before she was finished. The word "finished" hung in the air between us. We did not use the "c" word. I thought it but I did not say it. I come from a primitive people where words have enormous power and must be handled carefully.

But I could see that she had turned a corner. I could see the return of good health, of hope and youth in her face and in her physique.

And her plant? Still there, on my desk, in my new space. It's not much to look at right now ... but it's getting a little prettier and stronger every day.

*To protect her privacy, please note that Sasha is not her real name.


Cheryl said...

Michelle, I love this post. It is a reminder that we never know what is going on in the lives of others. It would be nice if everyone faced adversity cheerfully, but it would not be human. I hope both the plant and the person flourish.

A Lit Chick said...

Yes, she deserves the best. Sending good wishes and affection her way every time I look at that plant.

Christine said...

I was happy to read on and find out she's doing well! That made my day.