Swansong

Ostensibly a writing gig.

But an excuse to take my time getting back to the Outpost to pack.

So we rendezvous’d. Ant and I. On an island thrown off Zanzibar so that I flew into the archipelago and saw little splinters of land spread to the west, a flotilla of islets fanned like butterflies, coral reefs – all sage greens and aquamarine – visible from several thousand feet up.


We drank wine, swam with turtles, watched dolphins, climbed a 100 year old lighthouse, saw coconut crabs as big as cats, saw storms roll over the ocean which rendered the water more vivid, the sand whiter, witnessed the sun sink  into a sea burnished with last light, took our time. Caught up. A surreally magical interlude.


My days have been scrambled since I have been obliged to rejoin the land of the living, since I have been confined to the convention of regular hours I grapple to find enough of them, as if clutching at marbles. They slip from me, quicksilvered, mercurial. I miss the time I used to squander.

So here again there was enough of the stuff to think about words, to take pictures. And more still was spun of the hours we spent cocooned in the car as we raced inland and through tobacco regions where leaves are lettuce like and fatly glossy, spans like umbrellas wetly dripping for the rain that falls generously. It’ll be a good season observed Ant of his last here. I have missed the motion of wheels, the road trips, the conversations. A four day fix took us west and south, through Morogoro and Mikumi where we gathered the fruit of Marula trees, to the cold highlands of Iringa where I donned a jumper for the first time in months, to the plummeting depths of Songea which we left shrouded in wet, dark mist at four in the morning yesterday. We clambered north again, from where Tanzania stands on tippie toes with Mozambique and Malawi, we drove to where she touches fingers with Zambia and then we struck upwards with the lakes and unseen Congo to the west.

1000 klms we drove our last day, sixteen hours, through sunshine and heavy rain, into the baleful eyes of storm after storm, heavy, darkly lidded and teary and Africa shone all green at the edges whilst the road bled ochre into puddles . We sucked the blackseeded amber fruit of granadilla from aubergine skins, we ate pinkskinned peanuts saltroasted. We saw giraffe and saddle bills. We spotted a serval who bounded through swamp grass hating the wetfeetfeel. And then a fullfat moon rolled into the sky and lit our last hour home like a tilly lamp.


Home. Home? It does not feel like that anymore. Devoid of my children, Pili, the cats. It feels soulless. A small shrug of uncaring disdain. My friend C says houses are bricks and mortar, their soul comes in the stuff inside: the children, the dogs, the cats, the pictures and books and memories. Mine are slipping out.

Get rid of the crap admonishes Ant before he departs for work. I nod enthusiastically. Meaning well.

But when you set to it, to the sorting, it’s easy to get distracted and hard to sift the wheat from the chaff. I ditch two unpublished manuscripts. I remember a thousand articles as I toss reams of research into the bin.  I think back to the time of day school and home school after that: to the joy of being a part of assemblies, sports days, speech day. I remember Hat doing maths by the pool, reading Shakespeare in the swing, watching yeast foam and bubble in the sun as science. I feel the prickle of tears as I read a letter from my son (and I put that to one side), I laugh out loud as I read a story written by my daughter circa 2000. (And I put that to one side). I am glad I kept it all. I urge mothers everywhere to keep the stuff their kids generate on paper.

But perhaps it would have been wise to edit a little with the years!

13 Responses to “Swansong”

  1. tash Says:

    in a way, you sound almost homesick for the outpost! Who’d have thought it…. rich, after all, for having known it. Hope life is good down where you are now. xx

  2. Addy Says:

    How do we manage to accumulate so much stuff on the way? I have been clearing out decades of stuff in my house and thank god for ebay and charity shops. You will need a very big dustbin unless you have ebay and charity shops where you are!

  3. Martin H Says:

    My life began in Africa, in 1941. There is so much that leaves one heartsore, but also, so many good memories. What a wonderful continent, and what a wonderful story you weave.
    I really wish you and your family well in the future,
    Reluctant or not !

  4. mapesburyMum Says:

    Missed you – where have you been?!

  5. Lily Says:

    All the flotsam and jetsam we leave in our wake, that wash up on distant shores as treasure… like your marvelous stories of Zanzibar and Kenya and love and adventure that come floating across the seas to my part of the world in the curious internet bottle, which I uncork now and again with great pleasure. Thank you! It’s lovely!

  6. Elaine Says:

    I agree – don’t throw away any of the things the children wrote when they were young! They will make for happy reminiscences for you all in years to come.

  7. actuallymummy Says:

    Oh what a lovely place to collect thoughts and words! I do keep most of what my children write, I love how their concepts change over the years…

  8. MDBlogs Says:

    Yours was one of the first blogs I discovered when I thought about starting, and I visit here every once in a while and catch up. I’m always nourished afterwards.

  9. Lisa Says:

    so empathize with you love. such a hard, and shitty transition.

  10. Rainbow Prams Says:

    I have a box for each child! I don’t have the heart to throw anything away it’s so nice to open each box up over time to see how they have changed and grown x

  11. Connie Says:

    Missing your beautiful writing

  12. doglover Says:

    So that’s it, then. The last visit to the Outpost and your last blog.

    Thanks for a wonderful story over the many months of your blog. You have brought your life before us, with word pictures of great beauty, in a hot and dusty part of the Dark Continent. We came to know your family, especially dear Hat, and loved the tales you told.

    I hope your new life, orderly and with many time deadlines, goes well and that you and your family enjoy it and prosper.

  13. Lynne Says:

    Where you gone?? Didn’t realise that Swansong meant just that. Am so very sad – please come back. I am a South African not living in my beloved country and your blog helped to fill the hole of longing – made me homesick but in a good way. Just loved your blog – please reconsider.

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