Wednesday, August 31, 2011

the bus

( first day going to boarding school in granny's garden. liane, me and rayna. and ma)

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.

18 comments:

Janelle said...

ps: unless i'm in some bizarre time warp, isn't today the 9th of september? well. it says 31 august at the top of that post...odd.

toomuchaugust said...

"so high in the dark".

i've always wondered how i would feel to wave these sorts of goodbyes and hellos. your story fills me with every opposing emotion. the buses, the buses. where i grew up, at a remote power camp along the missouri river, we could feel the bus rumble into camp, knowing we had minutes from the sound of the first rumble for the bus to get to the end of camp and turn around to come back for us (as we lived on a dead end "road"). that rumble and the anguished rush involved in leaving stays with me still and i feel it in this post.

write the book. i will read it.

sherry

Robyn said...

a time warp, all of it, am lost and lost for words. Such a story you have to share, the book is already written, in the past, but we are all ready to read it.what adventures and sadness too. Thanks for sharing.

3limes said...

Beautiful. Just knit it all together and the book will be written. Keep remembering and recreating , it is all so evocative.

Lori ann said...

your mama would be proud of you.

sending hugs and much love. (i think the book will come out when its ready).
xxx

p.s. love the little janelli

Nic Sebastian said...

I will definitely read your book too! enjoyed this. Nic

ben wilhelmi said...

hi janelle,

sweet writings as usual. take care Ben

Linda Sue said...

I read this post days ago- and then i re read it again...and again and it stays with me even in my sleep, You write so that it becomes the reader's experience- really good! REALLY GOOD!
This one grabbed me on so many levels- your Mom, letting you go- at such a tiny girl age- for the betterment of you...breaks my heart a lot, for both of you. I want to shift that bus in reverse- I do. I want it to go back and collect your mom , take her to school with you so that she can tuck you in a night after a soothing bedtime tale.How sad ,this post, and how wonderful.

Janelle said...

thank all for your very encouraging and heartfelt comments...! with love x janelle

k said...

Janelle this is exquisite. Powerful reminiscence can be so very hard to capture with words and here you have managed to share something so true and sad and beautiful. I am awestruck.

Karine Ardault said...

this is beautiful, Janelle.
xxKarine

Amanda said...

please write this book. i would love to read it and i imagine there are many, many others who would as well. masterful writing, janelle. i have tears in my eyes.

(btw, you had me at bullet socks)

Anonymous said...

oh J so so sad it makes me weep to read - you are almost too good to write a book!! but all the world will read it when you finally do!missing you lots Ruth x

Barbara said...

Me, too. Your writing is beautiful. Just beautiful. Your story is compelling. Please write the book so we all can read it!

karen said...

Hi Janelle. I'm late here as usual, and having to catch up on everything. I have so many memories of those very same days, too, although we were lucky enough to not have to go to boarding school until we were about eleven. So heartbreaking to think of the missed visit for a 6 year old who couldn't be found.. Such beautiful memories of your mother. Your book will be amazing whenever it happens, but for now, your blog writings are fabulous, as always..

Family Affairs said...

Thats not much time is it with a mother.....lovely memories - my father had the same - although mostly by train - I remember him buying tackies - the equivalent of ballet shoes - anyway get writing that book - I've nearly finished mine!! it's being edited - then I'll send it to you given you're in it! Lx

JoeinVegas said...

So many memories -

Mud said...

Is this part of the book? Sign me up! Poignant and beautiful as ever.