I talk to Mum on Skype. Only the connection goes, it wobbles, drops from an encouraging five green bars to a shrunken two amber ones and I hear mum say, ‘Oh! I’ve lost you’. So we text box then. I don’t know if Mum knows I can still hear her even if she can’t me. I don’t know if she knows I can still hear Depression heavy on her voice; diminishing her. Everything is smaller when Mum’s consumed by Depression: her messages are abbreviated; her concentration span compromised; her conversation condensed to absolute essentials (if I’m lucky); even – especially – her voice. It’s much smaller. And the few words battle to escape from a too dry mouth which I know won’t be lipsticked.
Mum says the episode is dragging. ‘I know it will come right, but I just wish it would bloody well hurry up’, she types. She sounds exhausted. (For of course I can hear her even if she can’t me). And I am not surprised; Depression is a very, very heavy weight. Depression doesn’t just make you feel as if you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Depression puts it there and then – for added miserable meassure – sits squarely atop it.
My tenuous connection to the outside world goes completely then. When the wind whips up and the rain comes down. We thought it had gone, the rain. Indeed so confident where we that the Rains were over we took what remained of the (courtesy of the UN) blue tarpaulin off our roof (the little that was left clinging tenaciously to disintegrating tiles after six months of sunshine and storms, the little that had not fragmented and been picked up by a passing breeze only to be dropped moments later on the lawn). We ought to have known better. My grandmother never took the washing off the line if she wanted the rain to come. Some peculiar reverse psychology at play depending on whether you wanted the rain or not.
I don’t know how much rain fell. I just know how much fell inside the house (a basin full in my bedroom, enough to soak most of the sitting room, sufficient to seep out beneath the French doors and saturate the verandah). We packed up the rain gauge last week. Took it inside, dusted it off and stored it away until next Rains. Tatu who works with me must puzzle at our eccentricities. We measure the rain. Whatever for, so long as it falls, surely that’s enough. The first time it was employed, in an early season storm, she raced outside to snatch it in. I explained to blank expressions. She is left in little doubt as to my madness. I measure the rain; I plant our acre of garden with inedible grass mostly and I collect a plethora of dust gathering seeds pods and wild grasses and bits of drift wood which I scatter about the house.
‘About two inches I reckon’, Husband announced knowledgeably this morning as I paddled my way to make tea (shame he didn’t know enough to leave the tarp in place a few more days) .
And, because that’s the way things work in the Outpost, the powers that be have turned the water on today. After weeks and weeks of nothing, water is gushing into an already almost full tank.
I shall have a deep, deep bath tonight.
It’s a funny thing. Motherhood. And the momentum into which it sweeps you up, so swiftly. One moment you’re not a mum, the next you are: a mewling infant slid swaddled into your arms, a tag about his wrist and a cross face looking up into your own astonished one. And the next, for such is the speed with which it all seems to happen, you’re doing his very last school run.
My school runs have never been especially ordinary or suburban; the closest they got to that was an hour and a half round trip from the farm, through town to drop the kids off at a day school where mothers gossiped in the car park. The first I ever did – before we went semi-suburban – was across savannah knotted with the thread and tread of Masai cattle and dotted with rocky kopjes; we saw a cheetah and two cubs once, sitting on an anthill. That took the sting out of seven hours.
But lately, in the last three years, my school runs have been strung out even longer; it takes me 12 hours to drive west to where my son is at school now. I can abbreviate it with a six hour drive north so that he can take a 75 minute flight west. Which is what we did at the weekend. And we dropped him off at the airport and waved him through security and I said to Husband, ‘it doesn’t get any easier does it, saying goodbye to them?’.
And all the six hour way home I thought about that, about that last school run for my son for he will be done in two weeks, and I watched Africa unfurl outside my window, an ethnic alternative to the Bayeux Tapesty, telling her story and depicting with such precise clarity microcosms of life: not the celebration of a conquest, rather one of ordinariness and endurance and colour and community.
I saw totos bathing in transient water holes, for they will be gone in a month, swimming pools reduced to dust bowls, their goats drank at the edge and the children splashed and laughed, small dark bodies slippery seal glossed as they hung onto their water containers as floats. Later they’d reluctantly pile out, dry in the sun, fill their mtungis, and herd their livestock home to mothers impatient for having to wait for the requisite to wash and cook. I watched men gathered beneath the sprawling shade of trees, engaged in a baraza, smoking, arguing, wondering when the rain would end (perhaps we ought to have stopped to consult them and saved ourselves a sodden rising?); I watched goats, Africa’s resilient garbage collectors, grazing in rubbish dumps; I watched women doing a weekly wash in a diminishing river, wrung-out clothes vivid against the taupe and grey of rocks upon which they had been spread to dry. And we stopped for a coke (Adds Life which is what you need on a gruelling six hour-long drive) beneath a Baobab we have dubbed as Ours simply because it’s where we always stop when our school run takes this particular route and I watched the pink headed, lilac torso’d monitors nod maniacally on rocks as they sought their hearts’ desires.
And I watched all the way home, as we drove through villages strung as bright beads on an eternal grey ribbon, and I watched as the tar gave way to the final 100 miles of dirt and I thought life goes on, doesn’t it? It changes shape and size and colour, but it carries on.