It’s There. And Then it’s Gone.

We drive around the mountain to the other farm. The sky is duck egg blue and smeared with a haze which knocks all the sharp corners off the mountains so our views are soft, profiles powder puffed. When it rains and the air is cut glass clear and clean, I can see every crevice of distant hills. Not today. Today, with mounting drought, the dust smudges everything. 

Mum watches the road unfurl, a ball of yarn coming undone. At the wheel I steal sidelong glances. She stares ahead intently. 

Have I ever come this way, she wants to know.

Not this way, I say. It must be a relief – when I tell her what she wants to hear: she has not forgotten this route. She will. It will go the lost way of every other trip we make.

The road whips round bends and rises and falls. It’s empty. A grey ribbon of asphalt sliced by a line of white. I drive fast and hope mum can feel this faint thrill of movement. Her life is so slow and sedentary now.

At the farm I point out new developments. Take her arm as I inspect a build. Guide her vision to the mountain which looks quite different from this position, a different cold shoulder turned to us. 

See it, I ask?

Yes she says. Her gaze is directed in entirely the wrong direction.

Does she say yes to please me? To hide her disabilities and failing vision and incomprehension.

Not that way Ma, I say and I gently tilt her head and raise my arm to guide it as I point a finger.

“Over there. See?”

And then she does and I can tell because her whole expression changes:

Oh yes!

And we turn around and we drive home. More slowly this time. We drive back down the road, elevation falling as the valley spills away below us: huge, sprawling Africa views, fields of stunted wheat like an oaten sea wave in the evening breeze, mountains that shimmy, herds of sticking rib skinny cattle that crowd the road on their way back to safety of nighttime ‘bomas’.

Mum’s face is full of curiosity and her questions come thick and fast.

Who lived here before

What are they growing

Which country are we in now?

And again as last time and the time before that, I am reminded: because she has no answers as to who she is and where she’s from and who I am, it does not mean she has no questions. She has lots; she still has lots.

And when we get home and I help her out of the car and she leans against it to get her balance, something which I notice she must do more often now as her gait is unsteady and tottering, she says, ‘that was lovely, that was so lovely, thank you’.

An hour out in the car. That’s all it was. That is all it took: A new view. A different speed. I must remember this, I think.

The next day I casually drop the herds of wasting cattle into a conversation, the ones whose boney rumps bumped up against the front of my car as I edged my way carefully though them.

‘What cattle? Was I with you?’

It’s there and then it’s gone. So fast. Stuff slips through so quickly now. Even the things that you think really counted. 

Especially the things that really did.

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