Winter is in the air. Floating half way up to the sky and reflecting the last rays of the sun, the brooding white mountains are saying their farewell to the last of the spectacular autumn days. Evening descends quickly now to the placid lake: blue-grey turning to mauve then deep purple.
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Down through the cobbled street in between high stone walls, an elderly woman walks with a rhythmic sway, unsteadily leaning on a walking stick with one hand and clutches a bouquet of flowers in another. Her silver hair is up neatly in a bun. Her full-length dark leather coat and a burgundy scarf are her only protection in this foreign environment.
She walks at her usual pace on a street that she knows well from her twice-weekly trip to breathe the air and see the views, on the way to the Migro supermache in the village by the lake.
But she is out unusually late this evening.
She notices that the lake is different, as placid as she has ever seen it. Its surface glistens, dark blue now and dull white where the massive snowy range of Mont Blanc opposite is reflected. Two white swans are gliding silently away to their home somewhere on the rocky shore.
The woman looks up to the dark purple sky. The full moon has not risen but she can see its gleam already lightening the southern horizon of the lake, in the direction of Geneve. The usual lights from Evian-des-Bains, on the French shore opposite, flicker.
She had spent a sunny autumn afternoon making her kratong. There was no section of a banana tree to make its base nor its leaves to make the decorations. But she still used found natural materials from her garden to make the float, filling it with fragrant roses at the end.
There is the little pebbly beach now, gently lapped by the dark waves of the lake. No one is about. She crouches down with some difficulty, places the float on a little sand then lights the candles with a match.
There are four candles. The one she lights first is for her parents, the next is for her 8 children and many grandchildren, one for her two husbands, long passed away, and the last is for Buddha. As she sails the float away, a fortunate breeze conveniently pushes it further from the shore.
How strange it looks, as it does every year. The roses are lit by candleight against the background of dark blue and somber white snow. She silently makes her wish.
The moon now appears on cue on the eastern horizon. In that direction are all her loved ones.
She thinks often of her grandchildren in their noisy and happy houses in many countries on different continents. May the warm sun shine on them always. She sees her children as branches of a huge mango tree that she has grown and nurtured. It is laden with fruits, some green, some ripening and yellow.
Old chedis in shady temples far away hold the ashes of her parents and her first husband, where time passes imperceptibly on countless long evenings. There is also an aged grave strewn with leaves of the eucalypts and under such a pale blue sky, very far from Switzerland or Alexandria, where her second husband was born.
She thinks of her home in the tropical night, redolent with the scents of a myriad night flowers.
Sharp cold breeze from the snowy peaks now jolts her back. Itís beautiful here but does it have to be so blooming cold? She buttons her coat. The wind has blown out the candles and her float is disappearing into dark water, as deep and dark now as the sky above and space beyond.
Her cosy sitting room is waiting, filled with smiling photos. She makes hot tea immediately, sits in her armchair and pulls a rug to cover her legs, her feet also now in warm slippers.
The lady of the lake looks out the window once more over this foreign sea. She is comfortable. She knows that she fully deserves her rest.
It will be her birthday soon.