Tomorrow, at dawn, the children and I will pile into the car and drive five hours to Mwanza which lies sprawled as the worst kind of suppurating African urban spill on the shores of blue-grey-green Lake Victoria, its edges festooned with – alongside and in-between the corrugated iron roofed stain that spreads from its edges – enormous boulders which teeter precariously, like they have done for thousands of years, one on top of the other – balancing rocks – as if the tiniest nudge would send them tumbling down. A fragile house of cards.
And in Mwanza we will clamber aboard an aeroplane and fly north east. We will spy from the portholes as we sip warm Cokes and nibble curling Precision Air sandwiches Lengai and we will feel mildly disappointed that it has stopped its irritated volcanic smoking; we will witness the green puddle of lushness that leaks into the land around Arusha, damp and chilly and immersed in African mid winter now. And we will fly between two mountains, Meru and Kilimanjaro, standing face to face, sturdily sentential as they keep close watch over the border with Kenya, their hunched green shoulders collapsing to flat white plains whose surface is ribboned by the ancient, eternal tread of game and cattle and Maasai herders.
And then, twelve hours after leaving home, we will land in Nairobi where we will scramble into a very big taxi and we will drive across the city, marveling at its noise and size and interminable traffic and we will rendezvous with my sister and her three children.
And Mum. Who is well again. Who, after six months of being weighted down by Depression’s enervating shroud, has shrugged it off and is invigorated and happy and smiling. And she and I will, when my sister departs to join her husband in South Africa the following day, eat breakfast with a rowdy rabble aged between just five and almost seventeen. We will make mad trips to town, to the shops, to the cinema, to the Butterfly Centre and Safari Walk. Amelia and Hat will read to younger Lizzie and Katie. Ben will bowl endless cricket balls at little Ollie and will sweetly, in his gentle, early adult way, coax and encourage and make sure Ollie gets more runs than he really did. They will play rugby on the lawn. And Ollie will stare up at his older, taller cousin awed and delighted and shy. And he will remember every moment in order that he can recount to friends the days he spent kicking a ball about a garden with his big coz: my son will stand firm in Ollie’s young memory bank just like his older cousins have in his. Fights will be few; there are enough cousins to go around. One a-piece.
And Mum and I will talk and laugh and talk and laugh and drink cold beer in the evening and talk and laugh some more.
When my mum is well she understands that life is to be caught tightly in both hands and held onto and she knows, within her grasp like that, how to milk it for every tiny ounce of happiness, for every sweet precious passing moment that it may render. She knows how not to worry, when she is well, about the mundane. About the incidental. About the unimportant. No matter the chaos that will whirl about us, that lunch will morph into picnics at Bedlam, that my small nieces who have climbed into our beds before it is light will dress as fairies wearing wellies when they accompany us to buy bread and milk, no matter. She will laugh. Because she is well.
She left Depression behind. She got on a plane, nagged and bullied by my sister and me, but we need you Mum, we pleaded on the phone across endless, unseen miles. And she left Depression behind. Sulking in her sitting room or whining in a cab or scowling on a train or hunkered miserable on a row of uncomfortable seats in London’s Heathrow. I don’t care. I don’t care where Depression is now.
Because for now it’s not with my Mum.
And so we will laugh. And spin some happy, lasting memories.
All of us.