I was shocked when a daughter of close Indo-Fijian friends eloped 45 years ago. I sought her out at that time begging her, in vain, to return to her family. Her mother was distraught and angry. Her father was even more seriously affected – he spent three days lying on his bed without eating. He was obsessed with the disgrace his daughter had brought on him and his family.
I met Munni again on one or two occasions in recent years, and we saluted each other. At a wedding last year she sought me out and invited me to her home. I resolved to find my way there.
I got there today. Her Hindu husband greeted me warmly and showed me to a seat on his porch. We chatted on either side of an enamel basin of Fiji kava, occasionally drinking a bowl of the earthy liquid. Their eldest son and daughter-in-law were introduced to me and their only daughter, who lived next door, came over to shyly shake hands.
After a fine curry lunch I was left alone with Munni. I took the opportunity to ask her to tell her story of the elopement. She was 18 years old and schooling in town at that time. Her husband-to-be used to follow her after school pleading for her to come with him. She initially resisted but eventually agreed.
As we chatted Munni laughed at something I said. I was startled. It was just like her mother’s laugh. More than twenty years previously I had presided at her funeral. But Munni’s laugh made her mother momentarily present again. Old memories and strong feelings of affection and admiration flooded back. For a few moments the years fell away, and I felt her presence.
I told Munni this. She just laughed again. Memories are such precious things. They connect us vividly with friends from the past. I’m sure that they point to the future too.
Columban Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.