Archive for July, 2021

A Face to a Name

July 1, 2021

I am in the hiatus between Africa and Ireland – in Eastern Europe, where time seems oddly stilled, ducking mandatory hotel imposed quarantines and keeping clean as I go with masks and PCR tests. 

I tell mum I am on my way. She does not know from where to where or which country I am presently in. She asks every time we speak, ‘are you still stuck in that country’.

It’s easier to just say yes. 

I speak to her of visits to mountains and walks around glassy lakes and swims in seas so silky I can barely feel the water against my skin. I tell her about roads that twist tortuous up and down mountains so that my heart is in my mouth and I can’t look down and she will not remember that I share my dead father’s fear of heights, one that made his feet tingle, a burn I can feel in my own soles. 

I tell her about a monastery we visit, built into the sheerest rock face so that it seemed to stand with its back pressed against the mountain too, as if braced for a fall, like me, afraid to cast my eyes downwards. The monastery was bathed in sunshine and peace and the silence so surround-sound I could feel it. The pilgrims that come here are fewer in number now, with our pandemic of biblical proportions still plague-raging, but I watch those that do cross themselves and touch the stone walls with lips as they stand close to it for several minutes collecting their thoughts and saying silent prayers, and I feel deeply moved by their reverence. 

Mum is not happy. There is confusion or boredom or I don’t know what. I can see her casting about the screen, for me, for something to say and my heart always breaks a bit but I don’t let that show, I keep that hidden along with my face, I crack on with, ‘did you walk?’ No, not today. She does not feel like it today.

I ask ‘what are you reading?’ Nothing apparently – nothing appeals. 

We will find you something when I am there, I say.

She tells me my stories will be enough when I am there and I know that I must gather them to me then, that I must make sure I have all the words to stop all the gaps that will present.

I know that I must know what to say when she says, ‘who are you? How do I know you?’

Will you remember me? I ask 

She promises me yes, ‘of course I will’, she laughs.

‘I look older’ I warn her.

I will still know you, she says.

She might not. 

She certainly won’t recall this particular conversation.

I don’t know which is harder: that she once forgot me out of the blue. Or that I must prepare myself for her not knowing me now.

I think out of the blue was worse, it felt like a slap.

My sister says, when she calls, ‘I spoke to mum. I asked her if she had spoken to Anthea. She said no. She told me she has spoken to somebody whose name begins with A though. I told her that was you.’

Thing is, will she believe that when she sees me. 

Will she put this face with that name?

When we left the monastery and swung back down the mountain with the valley spilling deep below us, I was astonished at how quickly its imposing dimensions receded to nearly nothing, a white smudge framed by a granite wall and blue skies.

As if it were disappearing.