Tomorrow at dawn, I will put Hat on a plane to London.
This will be the first time she has flown alone.
And the first that I have had to say goodbye to her for more than a few brief days.
Nineteen sleeps. That’s what I have told her. Told myself.
She is going for a school reunion: to put real life smiling faces to the names she has grown to know across the ether, to meet the children that match the personalities which have become familiar in her virtual classroom.
She is excited. And happy.
She has packed and repacked and sorted from her outpost-warm wardrobe one that will suit chillier England. She is going to stay with my mother. With cousins. She is going to go to Tesco as often as anybody is prepared to take her.
I, despite the welcome company of her older siblings and her dad and the distractions that outside-outpost living will bring in the coming weeks, will notice her absence acutely. She has become my shadow. And I hers. My conversation over breakfast. My swimming and walking and watching telly companion. Her gentle presence is much bigger than you imagine.
Next week we will be an unfamiliar, too tidy, four. We normally number almost half a cricket team. We will pile into the car for an outing and I will say – before I remember that she is on the other side of the world – ‘Where’s Hat?’ We will sit down for a meal and I may stop myself just before I holler, ‘Come on man Hat, it’ll get cold’. And her siblings will be given rare opportunity to win at cards.
This, this gentle exercise in encouraging her forth is because I know she deserves the opportunity to shed outpost shackles. To have her own small adventure. To meet her peers so that she can really know them and not just their voiceless, faceless names across a void.
My conjecturing is being put to the test. This plan was hatched last October. Things are always easier In Theory. I am determined not to cry though. To dampen her enthusiasm, to dilute her joy.
I am tentatively standing at the coop door and reluctantly, anxiously, ushering the last of my brood out a little, just a little. And I am resisting the almost impossible urge to go after her, to shuffle alongside my smallest chick, ruffling my feathers importantly and bossily clucking instructions.
She will manage. She is composed. She has proudly packed her passport and ticket and the paperwork that denotes her as Unaccompanied Minor into a small bag purchased especially for her expedition. It is red velvet, with sequins and gold tassels. She chose it herself. And it is a perfect.
When my children were young and obliged to be separated from me for any reason, I constructed for them a Sally Worm. Each segment of her – usually flamboyantly coloured body – was a paper cut out, perfectly round for the tumbler I had used as a template. The segments were taped together and numbered for the days. Each evening, I told my children, they were to rip off the segment at the end furthest from her head. As we grew closer to our reunion, so the Sally Worm got shorter and shorter and shorter until, finally, happily, gloriously, the night before I got back, all that remained was a single circle with big eyes and a broad, broad smile.
Hat made me my own Sally Worm today.
Nineteen circles and a huge yellow face.
With an impossibly big grin.