I need old photographs. For a project. Mum and I return from a walk and mum digs out albums and dog-eared envelopes and we scatter pictures across the floor. Hat, immersed in maths homework, is quickly distracted.
Awww mum! Is that you? She asks, and points to a photograph of me circa 1960something.
Look how blonde you were!
(I pay hairdressers fortunes to emulate what I had aged 3 ½)
Cast back in time.
My mother with a beehive and a cinched in 23 inch waist. My dad all buff and bare-chested. Paul Newman blue eyes.
We laugh at pictures of my brother perched in the birdbath; my baby sister birthdaysuit clad and bald as an egg; myself screaming indignant, red faced and cross, into the lens.
‘Which one next?’ demands Hat, reaching for another album, Pythagoras Theorems’ abandoned.
And so for two hours we are thus immersed. ‘That’s your mummy when she was six, that’s your mummy when she started school … and that’s your grand-dad’.
And then there’s a gap.
A few empty pages, a cold white hiatus between sunny 1985 Africa and the marbled chill of our first Christmas in England.
And Dad is gone.
There is a photograph of him and me. I remember when it was taken: at the airport when I flew to London to seek my fortune. I am wearing a jumper mum had knitted for me. It is grey and pink. And far too thick for a sultry February evening on the equator. But I wear it anyway. Out of loyalty. Dad is beside me. His hand in mine.
For a moment we are silent. ‘That’s the last time I ever saw Dad’, I say to mum.
I know, she says.
And then, ‘is that a cigarette he’s holding?’.
‘Mum’, I laugh, ‘you find me a picture where Dad isn’t holding a fag’.
And she laughs too.
And we turn the page.
Because life goes on.