We are to move house. Despite the odds on finding anything remotely suitable; we have. We are – as a consequence – immersed in a flurry of activity as we urge the contractor and his team of brickies forth.
The house is an untidy remnant of the days of the British administration. Husband noted, with a hint of smug pleasure, that the road where the little house is was once the residential area of First Officers. I think, perhaps, I remark to him, that the First Officers lived in the row in front of where our home-to-be stands: the row where the houses are bigger, grander and once had a view across the plains to the south of the Outpost. Not that a view is visible any longer; it’s been obliterated by fields of maize that stand higher than an elephant’s eye.
The house – abandoned back in the sixties – is in need of spade loads of TLC (along, naturally, with same of cement to patch up yawning cracks in walls and floors). The termites, several generations of them, have built tunnels that run top to bottom and length and breadth of rooms, a spaghetti junction wrought of mud. The electrics are a veritable death trap: wires garland the house like a noose. The plumbing, what little is left, is rusty so that taps spit water the colour of smokers’ phlegm and the ceiling boards belly with damp and mould. The colonies of cockroaches evicted when we ripped the flaking kitchen units out scowl indignantly from dark recesses around the sink.
The garden, which is huge so that the children and the dogs rejoiced on seeing it, is presently a field of mahindi; the corn has yet to be harvested by the family who leased the land to cultivate. I am encouraging Sylvester, please, to plant some semblance of lawn in the gaps between the crop. Before the rain abandons us, I press. He thinks I am mad. But I am used to that. I push my way between the ranks of maize to examine what gems might lie within the garden, what can I salvage. There are a couple of palms hiding there and one or two shrubs, their prettiness disguised by the collapsing stalks and cobs shedding parchment skin. There is a glorious flamboyant tree which is slowly having the life strangled out of it by an ugly purple bougainvillea, thick and knotty with age it has clambered right to the top so that the tree sags lethargically beneath the creeper’s weight. We shall chop it down, I tell Sylvester, the bougainvillea I remember to say, not the tree. But not until the landlord has lost interest in the renovations we are making and has taken his beady eye off me.
Hat and I visit daily. Sometimes twice. Hat discovers an old dial telephone in one of the bedrooms. She is intrigued and spends ages dialing numbers. ‘Did you really used to have a phone like this when you were little’, she asks, amazed that her mother is old enough to have witnessed – utilized – the workings of something so archaic looking. Is technology moving too quickly? If our children dismiss the communication tools of their parents’ youth as something Noah might have placed a call on when he was ordering up all those animals I think perhaps it could be?
We take the dogs when we visit. They leap from the car and race about inspecting the place, pee’ing on every stone to mark a territory that isn’t theirs yet. I wonder if they understand it will be. Theirs. Soon. The labourers used to look alarmed when I first took the dogs; they used to stop leaning on their spades and cup their crotches nervously. Now that they know my fat Labradors are a pair of softies they just keep leaning on their spades.
I do wish they’d hurry up.