I upend bags. Clothes spill. Rainbows against the bright white of floor tiles.
I can smell the salt.
Later, later when I’ve shoved damp still-sea-scented t-shirts and shorts into the washing machine, I feel the sprinkling of sand under bare feet, cast by a holiday wardrobe, the last tiny reminders of two weeks at the beach tipped so that I tread it again. I smile.
The house is too quiet now. Now that everybody but Hat has gone back to school. Now that I can no longer hear the roar of the surf (unless I put a shell to my ear and persuade myself that I can as I did a child). Quiet except for the frenzied greeting delivered by the dogs who leapt and squealed and then did a lap of honour, tearing about the lawn (for there is a meagre blush of green after rain) to show how pleased they were that their humans were home. They keep coming to check on me, to make sure I am still here. I pat their heads distractedly and they seem content then to wander off and flop back down, bellies against the cool cement of the veranda floor.
The cushions on the sofa are too tidily arranged. There are no wet towels beneath beds. Nor six empty loo rolls rolling redundantly about the bathroom.
My big African life has concertina’d to Outpost smallness again. But I shall hang onto the snapshots in my head. Hang onto the peace that descended with that brief broad space of sea and sky and seamless horizons so that I felt like a bird tentatively stretching wings that had been pinned too tightly to her sides for too long.
I watched a great galloping ocean, listened to a wind that chased herds of white horses across its jade and aquamarine surface; I watched the sea race up the sand so that when the tide sank, it lay marked by ridges, each testimony to the perfect synchronization of every wave that tore up the beach chasing ghost crabs and then coyly receded, a little bashfully, when it failed to catch a single one.
I watched my son play cricket with his dad. I watched ngalos string sails tight and trip along the fine line that divides heaven and earth.
I played cards with my children. They cheated. I laughed. We snorkeled and gently touched anemones tended by tiny colourful wrasse, we felt the puckered kiss of their tentacles against fingers rendered wrinkly by too long in the water. We trod the reef mindful of spiteful spine’d sea-urchins. I drank beer from a bottle, which quickly sweated its label off and we all ate fish and chips smothered in Heinz tomato ketchup (did you know tomatoes protect you from sunburn enquired Hat, as if to justify a too fat dollop plopping to her plate).
Then the big ones went back to school – they will not be home until June – and I stiffened that top lip so that it would not wobble.
On my return the garden looks wildly, happily unkempt. Like a hippie who needs a haircut. Flower power abounds. The rain brought it. I came back to a blooming cerise pink geranium, plummeting yellow lantana, white spider lilies nodding in acknowledgment of my homecoming. The resident monitor lizards observe me from their habitual sunbakedrocks. Their small reptilian heads nodding too, as if agreeing with one another that the cats will torment them less now that there are laps to be sat upon again.
I will walk it later. The garden. When the sun has sunk too low to pinch I will pull on shoes dragged roughly from the single bag that remains unpacked, tomorrow’s chore I tell myself, and I will walk and inspect every tiny new shoot.
And I will feel the sand beneath my soles.