Archive for November, 2012


November 26, 2012

The rain came clattering down on Saturday evening. Barrelling blue and bruised into the garden. It was if the sky had popped, finally, after weeks of waiting, clouds swelling to impossible and promising dimension before vanishing like whispers. Not on Saturday though, on Saturday the heavens lost a grip of their weight and it all came tumbling down.

The roof on our new house is red tiled and so the orchestral drumming is tidily muted. I’d rather corrugated iron sheets where the cacophonous beat of water on tin drowns out conversation, silences music, renders the television mute. A roar above our heads. I can still hear myself think under a redtiledroof. Sometimes I’d rather not.

And then, in the still sodden aftermath, when the ground breathes steam and the trees shiver with delight in damply diamond studded drapes and the birds come back to chattering life, conversations reignited as if they never stopped (the briefest hiatus, like gossips who refused to be arrested in their anti-fact gathering missions) the air moves with the gauze wings of a hundred termites which erupt with the downpour from meringue fragile tunnels in the ground where they have lain in wait. I have watched, in the past, another garden, a different home, one with a tin roof, as the earth took flight in a million fluttering wings only to be snaffled up by the greedy jaws of two Labradors, a pair of cats and the snapping beaks of a couple of obstreperous geese. An early morning banquet: my little menagerie vying for the biggest catch (the dogs carefully observing a respectful distance where the cats and the geese are concerned).

One cat’s demise and another’s advancing years mean no feline feasting this morning. The geese are long gone and I think my dogs are too well fed?  So the termites brief flight of birthing ecstasy will be a little longer than it might have been.



Dead Weight

November 22, 2012

In the past two weeks two friends have lost husbands. Suddenly and unexpectedly. The men long shy of their 3scoreandten, their wives much too young to morph, over night, as widows. I cannot feel their loss for, mercifully, it is not mine to feel. But I can empathize. My dad was 47 when he died. My mum just 44. We, at 19, 18 and 13, were the ages those newly fatherless children are. So I call the one friend and I can hear her brave stoicism wobbling which makes me want to cry. I ask her when her beautiful daughter will arrive home to be with her, I ask who is with her now, I want to know if she has support for the unbearably horrible consequences that must be dealt with in the slaying aftermath of a death, the grim practicalities. I tell her to try to remember to eat. I remind her to get some rest when she can. And after that I don’t know what to say so I tell her I am thinking of her (‘Thank you’, she says, because she is graceful even now) and I put the phone down. And then I cry. Not because her loss is mine but because I know what a long road she has ahead of her and so to offer platitudes isn’t easy.

Yes. It will get better but it will take a long, long time. Yes the pain will recede but first, after the numbness of shock, must come the sharp sting of realization, every single morning, when she wakes, that he isn’t there. Yes, she will laugh again but before that she will cry as if she is never going to stop.

When my dad died an older, wiser friend told my young London flatmates, ‘for you, her dad died today, for her he will die day after day after day for a long time to come’. That is what I must remember now, and remembering that will make up for my inability to salve any part of her enormous pain by saying things that I know aren’t true unless I quantify them with the harsh realities that I understand:

It will get better.

But it will take a long, long time.

Instead I will drop her short emails and send her brief texts (for grief will steal her concentration) to remind her that I lurk, useless in the ether, for I cannot bring him back.

You cannot rescue a friend from the cold, alienating grip of grief. But you can prop them up a little as they limp their way through. That’s the best you can do.


The days are heavy here. A torpor descends as the heat rises and by early afternoon the house is kiln hot, I imagine I could make meringues on the verandah. A fan lazily stirs the leaden air. I lie sprawled on my bed, heavy limbed, heavy lidded, a starfish trying to find a cool spot. Life has been arrested. I am not entirely certain of what the outcome will be. Uncertainty is a difficult commodity to manage. I can’t pin life down so that I can get on with it. Instead I meander, inertia arrested. I blame the heat. It’s easier that way.

Waiting for Dust to Settle …

November 9, 2012

When the sun comes up, it rises from the back of the house and peeps over the roof and tiptoes into the garden and casts, first, before it settles on the grass, a halo upon tree tops. And then the light sinks to the lawn which – because of an extraordinary abundance of water – is green despite the high white heat of summer. Beyond the garden, the lionsmane yellow of the scrub is straggled in stark contrast and when the wind whips, dust spirals and dances into the garden to lace the bluecoolness of the pool. When the rain comes, and we’re waiting for it with tight, hot, bated breath, the dust will settle.

The house is long and low. Conceived by a Zambian minster who ran out of money it has existed both as home and hotel. The plethora of redundant bathrooms endorse its brief foray into the hospitality industry. It’s too big for us, for Ant and I: we appropriate only a small portion of its cavernous hugeness. We close doors against emptiness so that we are not constantly reminded of the children’s distance. It’s an elastic house; when they all come home for Christmas there will be boundless space for everybody to have a spot of his or her own to create noise and mess or find peace and quiet. Sometimes, when I stand at one end and call the dogs, they can’t find me. Pili, anxious, exuberant, still puppyish two years later, skids on polished parquet floors in her haste to race through corridors and when she does, finally, come upon me, slips and slides some more to show how pleased she is that I am still here. They have been as unsettled as I.

In the evening we sit on the verandah and listen to the guinea fowl cackling in the bush nearby. Arguing, each wanting to be heard above the other, each with a more valid point to make or a better story to tell. The garden is full of birds, paradise fly catchers sweep through, long tails trailing. My days are punctuated by bird call. And then the sun rolls out of the sky and bursts in a show of cranberry pink on a western horizon behind trees so that I can’t see its final moments but I can see boughs and branches on fire and know it’s happening.

The dust hasn’t settled on our lives yet. I remain on tenterhooks wondering if this will all be alright. If it will last. I don’t know yet. But I do know that for now this is a good place to sit still, quietly, taking stock.

This is my fifth home, in a third country, in eleven months. I think it’s a good place to gather myself up.

But I hope the rain comes soon …

The Longest Shortest Day

November 4, 2012

The last day is always the longest.

And the shortest.

It drags its heels and kicks them and then looks at the time and gasps: that time? Already? Where did it go? The last day?

Hat flew back to school last night. A long last day. Wishing the sick feeling in my tummy would pass, that the lump in my throat would go, that I could taste the lunch we went out to. And the shortest: wishing 10:30 would never come and being astonished when it did. Time to clamber off the sofa where we lay to watch telly, her tall 15 year old frame curled into mine so that I can smell her hair. Limbs a tangle, the cat wedged between us. Time to heave a suit case into the car, to go through the sameold checklist: passport? Ticket? Phone? Charger? Money?

Yes Mum. Yes Mum. Yes Mum. Mum, please stop worrying; I’ve done this before and I know what I’m doing. It gets easier.

Not for me.

For me the longest/shortest last day turns into the longest night.

I wake at 3am and wonder where she is in that big black nighttime sky, is she asleep? Is she warm enough? Is she ok? Did immigration treat her kindly after I held her in a hug and called her back through the metal detector for a second so that the man who stood next to me smiled and I wondered, ‘does he have to say goodbye to 15 year old daughters?’.

I wake at 5 and wonder, can she see a pearly dawn too? Has she slept? Is she alright?

At ten I must worry: can she manage Schipol? Did she navigate her transfer? Does she have enough money for a Coke? A sandwich? Has she found her gate? Is she safe?

At two I must fret until I hear her voice, there, from the other side of the world. Faint and faraway.

‘Hi Mum, I’m here’.
‘You ok? Was your flight good? Did your bag arrive? And your guitar?’

And then I must anxiously finger tap until I know she is back at school, in a warm dorm, with friends, familiar faces, a hot bath, supper.

Twenty four hours after she leaves here I hope she is there.

And I will walk into her bedroom at home where yesterday’s clothes are still scattered, teddy bears lie glassy-eyed on the floor, vibrant cushions lackluster suddenly, an unmade bed, strung with mosquito net and fairy lights. Colour abounds in her newhomeroom but it is achingly, achingly quiet.

And the lump in my throat dissolves and wets my cheeks, and I bite my lip and I close the door.

I will tidy up tomorrow; I will be braver then.