‘Isn’t it time you started to think about retiring?’ her daughter came out with suddenly on their afternoon stroll.
‘What do you mean?’ said Sheila. ‘Are you trying to tell me I’m past it?’
‘I didn’t mean it that way,’ insisted Mary. ‘I was just thinking of you. You’ve worked hard all your life. Surely you want to take things a bit easier now that you are approaching sixty.’
‘Well, I’m only fifty-seven and no, as a matter of fact, I don’t,’ Sheila said. ‘And anyway, it’s not as if I can. I won’t be getting my pension for some time. I don’t want to live in poverty.’
Younger people didn’t understand about pensions. She’d been the same at her age. She hadn’t started paying into her pension scheme, until well into her thirties, when she’d gone back to work after the children. Now that she was divorced, she wasn’t even sure when she would be getting her pension. They were always changing the rules.
‘Anyway, it’s not just the money that keeps me working. What would I do all day long? Who would I see?’
‘Me?’ said Mary.
‘Quite’ thought Sheila. But some things were better left unsaid. It had been happening a lot lately, people suggesting she be put out to grass. It had started somewhere around her mid-fifties. There came a point, it seemed, when, if they didn’t pay attention, women often became dispensable in the workplace.
It was especially annoying for someone like Sheila who’d been in the public eye. What
was more irritating was the way people tried to pass off their comments as concern. Now even her own daughter wanted her to stop working.
All her life she had fought against becoming invisible.
‘Remember, don’t be a wallflower,’ her mother used to say to the teenage Sheila, when she was on her way out to dances.
‘I wish you’d stop harping on about it,’ Sheila would retaliate. ‘Anyone would think you were trying to get me married off or something.’
Her mother had led a life of relative obscurity. She was from that generation of women who had found themselves back into the kitchen, when their menfolk had come home from the war. Sheila had been secretly glad of her mother’s advice. It had stood her in good stead over the years, given her confidence to put herself forward when an opportunity arose.
At school she’d excelled in English and had gone on to take media studies at university, where she’d learnt that if you wanted to get anywhere as a woman in the media, it was no use hanging back. You had to put yourself forward for every opportunity that came up. She’d jumped at the chance to become a war reporter.
Embedded with the army, she’d experienced what real danger was. If she’d had any thoughts of staying invisible, the enemy certainly didn’t. She’d been a sitting target. She’d been shot at on several occasions and narrowly escaped death. After that she’d gone on to become a rising star in the media and had been promoted to a top job as a foreign correspondent. In that capacity, she’d interviewed many a significant international figure and had presided over many a ‘cause celebre.’ Of late she’d become known for promoting women in the workplace.
‘I’m not suggesting you sit at home all day long and do nothing,’ her daughter said. ‘There are plenty of pastimes for women of your age.’
‘Well, you could take up painting or creative writing. Quilting is very popular these days. It helps build neural networks. And there’s always walking or golf.’
‘It’s not pastimes I need,’ said Sheila. ‘And there’s nothing wrong with my neural networks, as far as I know.’
‘Or, we were thinking, you could help us out with the children. You know they love you to bits.’
‘Before you go on,’ said Sheila, ‘there’s something I need to tell you. I would have told you before, but I wasn’t sure it would come off until today. I’ve been offered a job as a fundraiser for the Refugee Council. It’s a chance to make a difference. They want me to start as soon as possible.’
And she resolved to send off her acceptance, just as soon as she got home.