Life is being ironed out. For a while, for a few weeks back there, when it hit a speed bump, wobbled and swerved, I wondered if this was what it felt like to crash. To flail emotionally and falter and then fade to utter enervation. I wondered, briefly, blessedly briefly, if this was how Mum had felt countless times before. But, with a decision behind us, with upset and disappointment fading like the scar of a wound which hurt like hell at the time, suddenly the clouds lifted and I could see the sunshine, I can see the sunshine, even on a day like today when the sky and the sea meet in a blur of squall and mist and wet. The relief that, despite it all going horribly wrong, we have been able to pick ourselves up and brush ourselves down is huge. But the relief that I am not headed where Mum is now is indescribable.
I hate Depression. I hate it with a vigour that is palpable, a foe that is almost as tangible as the illness itself is not. I’d like to scream and hurl abuse and tell it to Fuck Of! Why didn’t we see it coming? Why can’t we – why can’t Mum – outwit it, step out of its horrid glare, escape the cruel clutches that hobble and hamstring her for months. Were there clues? Tears during a Skype call, ‘I’m fine really, there’s nothing sinister in my crying, just tired’. Should we have anticipated it? Mum tries to justify each crushing episode, place blame, understand where the wretched thing came from, but as it damply settles, she sighs, ‘Perhaps it was just my time for another Depression’.
And as much as I want to weep for the distance that renders me too far to be useful, I know how difficult this monster is to live with. I know how it alienates, frustrates, enrages as it stubbornly refuses to be chivvied into doing something, anything. Instead I Skype and text and write to long suffering far-from-me, close-to-mum family members and friends and bossily instruct on how to manage (as if I know!), on what drugs she should be on, on whom they ought to try to see. I can’t believe any of it is in vain. For to do that would be too painful, to doubt I can negotiate her recovery would be unbearable, I have to hope. And therein lies my ally; optimism has not abandoned me in the way it has her.
And so it would seem we are headed inland and south and across two borders.
I never thought I would leave this cozy familiar corner of East Africa with its generational pull and uneven but oddly reassuring history. But I am. I never, ever thought I’d live in Zambia – a country whose name began with a Z seemed strangely mythical when I was little, as if something from the land of hobgoblins and faeries, gladiators and unicorns. Z seemed so far away, a march down the alphabet. But, in a few weeks, we will gather up our bits and pieces and head down Africa into its unknown landlocked interior. Change is always a little intimidating. And the winters there, says my friend K, really are winters.
But the miombo and the woodsmoke and bright wide white smiles in dark faces and skies that stretch for ever as if standing on tippie-toes to reach for dust smudged horizons will be gloriously, happily familiar. A whole new adventure we tell ourselves, absolutely unanticipated.
And perhaps that’s the best kind of adventure to embark on: the ones we least expect.