This photo was taken by Shirley de Jong.
Begonia Séu pushed her ginormous suitcase through the long lanes of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. She knew that most foreigners pronounced Schiphol wrongly, a characteristic that was even taken over by the computer voice that announced the train station that was beneath the airport. In the long hallway, she saw a figure that had clear resemblance of Ada Wong, an elder lady that waggled behind her walker. Mrs Wong had no Chinese heritage, but the power she usurped in this day and age was unparalleled. Perhaps she acknowledged the ancient Chinese wisdom that the older you got, the more respect you earned.
But what was she doing here? Did she really had to catch a flight, at her age? Where could she possibly go when she needed a walker to even get around in her small town? At the same time, Begonia must have seen how beautiful Ada Wong’s attire was. Arty, classy, in all the right ways. Granted, she sported a casual red dress, but she rocked it in such a way that it made for a sublime outfit.
She almost had forgotten her friend when Patricia said: ‘Isn’t that Ada Wong?’ Probably, Begonia reckoned, Patricia had dollars in her eyes when setting eyes on Ada, because she could just be her big break for her ailing publishing house.
‘Of course, it’s her,’ Begonia mumbled stoically. ‘But let’s keep it civil, Patricia. We do not want to upset an old lady,’ she quickly added with stress.
Patricia pretended not to have heard this remark and began to infiltrate Ada Wong’s private circle. Next to Mrs Wong stood a celebrated artist, Desassossego. ‘Ada, wait for me,’ yelled Patricia. ‘It is such an honor to see you once again.’
Mrs Wong turned around in an elegance that put most people in their twenties to shame, smiled and peeked sideways behind her sunglasses. ‘Hello, Patricia. It is indeed a pleasure to meet you again,’ she said.
Much to Begonia’s chagrin, Ada only paid attention to Patricia, even though she received an appreciative nod from Desassossego. Hadn’t she taken care of her in the past? Was that all forgotten? She decided to give her a taste of her own medicine; evidently, Patricia did not need her help.
Ada started telling about one of her stories. ‘Oh my child, I was in Maastricht, you know in the South of the Netherlands. I was at an art fair, the TEFAF. It was really special and extraordinary.’ She laughed once more and exchanged piercing glances with Patricia.
Patricia knew that this was a natural entry-point to sway Ada’s opinion. ‘You mean the art fair of Maastricht?’
‘Yes, my child,’ said Ada, upholding an unnatural big smile. ‘I really like, no I love, this art fair. We were going with those other people from my home, you know, from Bird Ave. I am a Maastricht lady at heart. Actually, I hail from Tilburg, but I’d rather say I come from the real South. I am a real Southern Dutch lady.’
‘I also have roots in the South,’ added Patricia rather hastily. ‘I reckon we lived at the Brusselsestraat. Now I am living in Dutch Hollywood.’
~ * ~
‘You mean Nollywood? That is a kind of miniature Maastricht with less class. Not so mountainous and less romance, don’t you think?’ Ada sighed deeply. ‘Now that we’re reminiscing, don’t you remember Desa, us together on those streets.’
‘What do you mean Ada?’ asked Desassossego in a manner that revealed he had no idea what she was talking about.
‘Your poetry collection, you know,’ said Ada. ‘Your poetry. It was titled Disquietude. Just released and already a big success.’
‘O yes, now I remember,’ Desassossego lied.
Patricia felt compassionate with Ada, who - as it turned out - was deeply enamored by Desa, for years already. Even though it was a love that would never find a response. ‘Ada, could I ask you for a favor?’
‘Of course, Patricia. You can ask me anything.’
‘Ada, I have some books in my portfolio that I would desperately want to generate attention for. Could you perhaps do some promotional work for me in art society Arti et Amicitiae?’
Ada looked at her stoically. Finally, she uttered: ‘And what’s in it for me?’
Good lord, thought Begonia, another one that is constantly smelling money. It might very well have been a callous request of Patricia, but why did Ada always end up asking for dough? It wasn’t like Patricia asked her to walk to the moon and come back telling about her experiences. Bego tried putting on her Macleans smile, but did not elicit a response from the old lady.
Ada regained composure and moved on: ‘As I was saying, it was really a special get-together of artists that are contemporary. You have no idea what it takes to be contemporary. If you are a classic artist, you can just follow your gut feeling of what is beautiful and what is not. But if you are contemporary, like me, you constantly need to figure out how to shock people. Think about the black square of Malevich? I wish I had come up with that.’
‘Yes, you are quite right,’ uttered Patricia, who was relieved that the topic of cash was put aside. ‘But what do you think about publishing the works of your beloved Desassossego in Spanish? You know I have connections in the Hispanic world.’
‘You? But you hail from, what was it again? The Dutch Antilles?’
Patricia blocked the negative tone Ada emitted and smiled. ‘Yes, that is my home town. But most can speak Spanish over there, because Papiamento is like Spanish, only different.’
‘Isn’t that some sort of simpleton language?’
While this really struck a nerve, Patricia did not move one facial muscle, Begonia discerned. She must have been either desperate or dead-broke if she let such an insult pass. But maybe Patricia’d changed. Who knew?
After a while Patricia and Ada reached a consensus and the deal was struck. It was kind of a relief for Begonia, who stood there all that time and saw with her own eyes that Patricia was falling from her usual grace. What had run into her friend? Was she tapped out? Did she really have to publish a famous Dutch poet, artist and writer? She could not fathom that this poet really had what it took to become famous in the Caribbean.