It comes as a shock when I hear my own voice echo back at me. I am lost in thought, and my thought turns to conversation though I am my only companion, at least I hope I am.
It is mortifying then to discover I am not alone. One of my daughters is within earshot.
‘What? What did you say? Oh mum, you're talking to yourself.’
Do you talk to yourself?
They say it is a form of madness. I think not. They say it is a sure sign of aging, a sign of solitude,
I do not live a life of solitude, though I am aging. Hopefully, I am not too much mad.
For me a private soliloquy is a practice conversation, rather like testing out how something sounds before saying it to another.
My mother often talked to herself. I overheard her private rants when I was a child. Kooky old thing, I thought.
It is an odd and eerie experience to overhear the conversation of someone nearby who does not realise you are there, and whose words are not meant for your ears, or any one else's. It is like peering through a keyhole into another person’s mind.
Over dinner last night my husband and I and a friend discussed a recent court case here, one in which the judge has ordered a devout Muslim woman to dispense with her burqa while she gives her testimony. A witness, it seems, must be visible.
Rather than get into the politics of this, the rights and wrongs of people’s freedom to dress as they will, I find myself wondering about what it is like to be dressed in a burqa with only your eyes exposed for visibility.
I begin to imagine it as a secret and safe place. From inside you can poke out your tongue and no one will know. You can raise a two fingered salute and no one can see. You can frown and grimace private insults directed towards the person who stands before you and he is none the wiser. Most body language it seems disappears under the burqa, apart from your stance.
Apparently someone on the radio who argued in support of this woman’s right to dress as she pleased - in an attempt to refute the notion that communication is a two way process, whereby you have to be able to see the other to hear them - commented on the fact that on radio you cannot see the presenter. The presenter too cannot see his audience. But all other people working together in radio land can.
Yesterday I visited the Tooronga Village shopping centre for the first time since it re-opened and there in the middle of the shopping complex outside the shining new Coles supermarket was a radio box in which the radio host and singer, Denis Walter, officiated.
He was holding a series of raffles which he drew regularly but you had to be on site to collect your prize. A woman in black stood in front of the glass booth, held a microphone and called out the name of each winner, 'first prize a S250.00 Coles voucher to Mollie Hines', or some such name and Mollie rushed up. Her face looked flushed as if she were embarrassed. There was a scatter of polite clapping from the small audience hoping to win, and the organiser plunged her hand into the barrel again. She had handed Mollie her check and pulled out the next winner of a Coles voucher this time for a lesser amount and so it went on.
I could not stay around to watch the fortunes of my ticket but I cast my eyes towards Denis Walter in his glass box, headphones on. He looked out into the shopping world. I wondered what it must be like. He was talking to himself, in the hope of reaching an imaginary audience. He could not hear us, but we could hear him through his microphone.
For a minute it felt obscene, as of it were a stolen moment. As if I should not see this man from the radio. I should only hear him speak.
We have senses, five of them, and a sixth for food measure, if we are lucky or not, as the case may be. The sixth sense is the one that rises above all others and gives access to secrets. The flush of someone’s cheeks. We can all read one another’s facial gestures, unconsciously. We are attuned to do so from birth.
What about the inscrutable people, those who wear their faces like a mask? Those who hide their feelings as distinct from those, like me, who tend to be like half open books. Half open, I stress, because half the book is closed. It may not appear so, but it is.
I keep asking myself why do I object to the presence of spouses at the family get together that we have organised for the night of 30 October. Why do I want it only to consist of the nine of us?
Is this a benign wish or do I have a sinister agenda, one based on the desire to get to certain of my sisters and my brothers in the absence of partners. Partners are from the present, siblings carry over from the past.
Do I see it as an opportunity to speak of times gone by without the censorship of the past? But censorship there will be. The presence of partners might reinforce this.
I cannot say all the things I want to say, many of which I have yet to articulate even to myself, but some of these thoughts are the thoughts I had as a child, when I could not speak as openly even to my closest siblings as I would have liked even then.
I am fearful at the same time that without spouses the others Who might have a chance to pass judgment on me for all my misdemeanors, especially my younger sister, the one 21 months younger than me, the one with whom I have most ardently competed throughout my childhood, she of greater beauty than I. She whom I once thought all the more desirable. Her teeth were not rotten like mine. She looked like our mother. I took after our father – his long narrow face, his height.
The years have changed all this. Now I too look more like my mother, her aquiline nose, her hooked profile.
If I wore a burqa none of this would be visible. If all nine of us came together and sat around under burqas, might we feel free to speak our minds, or would the event become one of silence, or worse still an event at which we talk out loud to ourselves in the belief that no one else is listening?
Nine soliloquies echo back in a room filled with black hooded bodies.