i swore i'd start writing The Book today. and did i? did i?
i did not.
ideas swirled through my head, slow motion faded polaroids...
my mother's 1970's datsun, sports car delux. once in a blue moon, she'd race to rhodesia, a day's drive at least, stopping to buy peppermints in karoi. i remember her bringing me ballet socks one afternoon, at boarding school. i was five and a bit, a bright wee silver fingerlin'...and i remember her laughing when i read "bullet socks" on the plastic wrapper... i was never much good at ballet, preferring to spin around on my bottom, counting how many circles i could do without stopping...i remember her coming once, and they couldn't find me and she left. without seeing me.. how i wept inconsolably. when i was maybe 6.
i remember my 6th birthday at boarding school. the matron, miss hall, a grey haired rigid spinster, brought me my wrapped up present from my mother. i was so excited. i opened it. inside was a puzzle with a little green rhinoceros. plastic. but if you held the puzzle box at an angle, his little legs would move and he would trot down hill. i loved that little green rhino. i can still remember him. and i ordered a chocolate log cake from mrs sherman, in her office, under the stairs to the dormitary, where the black phone was.
i remember my mother's letters...she always drew funny little pictures next to her words in case my reading wasn't that hot. i knew i couldn't write 8's without taking my pencil of the page. i did two circles joined in the middle. i remember once writing a letter home, which the matrons always read, "dear mummy. is daddy in jail yet? love janelle."
i remember the smell of boarding school trunks and the pine trees of salisbury lingering on the crisp night winter air as our bus sped into town.i felt so small and so very far away from home until we arrived at school, where the matrons would whisk us inside, donning out hot cups of cocoa and lashings of ham and tomato sandwiches. and where there were lots of other little girls bobbing about in the same boat as me.
i remember pressing my face against the bus window in lusaka, her waving bravely back at me, smiling, stark under the white midday zambian sun. perhaps the wind blew her hair over her face and she lifted her hand to hold it back, waving, waving with the other hand. how i raged and bawled but nothing could stop the bus going away away away from my mother. not even her.
i remember winning the running race on Rhodes And Founders' Day. i knew my mother was somewhere out there watching. i said to myself, "i'm going to win this!" and i did! i ran on my toes. i ran with wings at my heels. i ran until i thought my heart would burst from my burning 8 year old chest. i remember how everything was so shiny afterwards and i felt like The Champion Of The World and everyone loved me so much. oh and my sister's secret garden, near the tennis courts....it was quite the most magical garden i had ever seen. i felt overwhelmingly privileged to have been shown it. i was sworn to secrecy or else... all manners of the darkest awfulness would befall me...it was hidden deep under the pines, near the hedgerow, where nobody went, with mini mountain ranges and pebbles and tiny cactii....
i remember rainbow ice cream on saturdays before riding lessons and seeing grandpa sitting in granny's fiat, with his brandy bottle hidden in a brown paper bag, watching me in his gary larson styled emerald green glasses. he was a man of few words. that afternoon, under the whispering gum trees, he said " you can ride. you can ride. never buy a hoss with white feet.." and then simply drove away. we clambered back into the landrover which bumped us back to school and chapel. i quietly glowed the entire way back. and never forgot his words.... i remember sundays at granny's house in borrowdale...having to spell 'chocolate' after pudding for granny if i wanted one, with my middle sister slyly and so kindly, mouthing the letters to me behind granny's back. we'd wait until we thought they were asleep and raid the sweety tin from the dark pantry for more Turkish Delights. we'd hide them under our pillows and forget about them until bed time. i remember the time i tried to throw a stone over the purple VW outside granny's gate. afterwards, i ran and hid in the dahlia beds behind the house, the same dahlias where my big sister made me take all my clothes off, and hold dahlias over my mosquito bite sized child breasts to fulfill her latest photographic project. i think i preferred the wedding photograph sessions we held in the garden in zambia. she was always the bride, though.
i remember staring out of the dormitory window at night, watching the army helicopters flying back, maybe 2 or 3 in a messy formation, maybe coming back from some borderline encounter, the stars so high in the dark, inky blue rhodesian night sky, and thinking, somewhere out there, somewhere about as afar away as those stars, were my mother and father... somewhere far far away.
i realized today, that all in all, i only spent 8 years with my mother before she died. that excludes the long holidays, in between the long long terms away. even now, 27 years later, every now and then, i'll dream i'm on a bus, somewhere between chirundu and harare, climbing the zambezi escarpment, racing along, and i'll see her standing on the side of the road waiting. not waving. just standing there staring back at me. and the bus won't stop. i'll rush to the back. i'll be shouting "stop! stop! stop the bus!" panicking. but it never stops. not even i can stop it.