Wednesday, September 19, 2012

...and then there were 2.


You can’t swop lives like postcards but you can start building bridges for transitions. Things will start to feel alright again – not so dislocated or distressing. Farewells are the worst. Farewells of any sort. They equate endings. Fact. Walking away, step by step, was devastating.

We leave home at three in the morning on a Sunday. We pay our first chai (bribe) at 3:20 am to the policeman who is posted outside Mohammed’s Space Oil  - a petrol station which no longer sells petrol. The only good thing about leaving home so early is that the road is empty, but for lonely, hungry, cold policemen.

He kisses his sleepy little sister goodbye, all warm like a scone in her giant bed, hugging her fiercely as I hover in the doorway.  He hugs his older brother, a louche but tender 16 year old who actually makes it out of bed for this terrible goodbye. As he walks out the door, without looking back, he says “I love you D” into a cold and dark 3 o clock morning. I look on helplessly, hands limp at my sides. We bump down the hill and I hear imperceptible sniffling. “I’m going to miss everyone so much.” Nyamuhanga, the askari, had hugged him too long. The afternoon before, Marco, the groom (preacher and self professed healer man), had held his St Christopher in his hands and mumbled blessings, prayers and Maasai magics into it. Bumping down the hill, into this cold, still morning feels wrong and too sad. I am Queen Elizabeth. I am Queen Elizabeth, rolls my mantra like a repetitive cine in my head. I hold his hand and tell him everything is going to be alright and of course you feel sad saying good bye and feel sick and little in the pit of my stomach. And alone.

Checking in at 5 in the morning at Kilimanjaro Airport is a rude and banal distraction from my emotional turmoil. The check in man writes a PhD single fingeredly into a screen and still makes errors, as I discovered in Nairobi when I am called up by security along with a fellow called something like Mohammed Al Quaeda Bin Laden from Mogadishu. The dwindling Kilimanjaro glaciers shine soft and quiet as we fly by, the patient granite face of the mother mountain saying nothing, giving no comfort except perhaps that she will be there when we return.

We arrive at Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg along with the rest of Africa: A football team from Angola, our flight from Kenya, a boeing from Nigeria, one from the DRC and another one from Cameroun. Everyone wants to come to the land of milk and honey. The luggage belt churns around, spitting bags out. We find mine.  He says, “ I don’t think mine’s made it…” his words laced with anxiety. He had been packing his little suitcase for a week, carefully labeling each loved piece of him from home in his squonky scrawl, methodically ticking off the list. He’s right. It doesn’t arrive. He and I are not supposed to travel together – we’re far too similar – too emotional and fiery. Calm is a foreign country to us in times of adversity. I don’t think the Lost Luggage Counter had ever seen anything like it. Nothing could produce my son’s bag. Not his tears. Not mine. Nor my rage or despair.

We head on, for the next flight to the sea, our eyes scratchy from tiredness and tears, bewildered by this giant airport. Through the crowd, like an angel, strides dear T, from nowhere, a dear and beloved face in a sea of nothingness. He whisks us off for milkshakes and vodka all round. Sometimes life is kind and uplifting, soaringly so.  

We head on – numb from tiredness, mile after blue mile sliding below us, foreign crinkled mountains and then, there, far below, a vast emerald sea dotted with little ships, twinkling in the twilight. We fly closer to the D Day of all goodbyes. The B & B is cold. Horrible. In the morning he creeps into my bed and we curl up and he murmurs, “This is what you call lying like spoons.” My brave, cold boy.

We race through ghastly shopping malls, throwing things into trolleys, bags, madly ticking off lists. We get lost in the new city. Me: Oh hurrah! We’re on Cape Road at last. Him: No Ma! It says…K…Kaap Weg.
He will learn enough Afrikaans in good time to get by, I know. We race up the highway, through the new country, sad songs on the radio which we can’t change and a hard and sleety rain hammering the rented car windscreen. Crunching gravel, we arrive at the new school.  Between each breath the heaviness of the imminent goodbye rests. I am Queen Elizabeth. I am Queen Elizabeth. “Try this shirt for size,” smiling, in the uniform shop and other vacuous pleasantries. The moment of truth arrives as we walk into his dormitory and we see his little naked bed where other boys like him have slept before. Reality slaps us in the face. I am Queen Elizabeth. I am….her. We frantically label all the new shopping to replace his lost luggage. I see his big boy hand shaking, unable to write. My mouth is dry. Somehow I keep smiling. I talk to another mother but I don’t really know what I am saying. Labelling, talking, making his bed, folding . . .until…until he says “Ok Ma…I’m going to watch football,” and walks away out the door. I look up. I say, “You can’t walk off without saying goodbye, man!” to his back. He turns. I see his eyes and crumpled face. I grab him. Hold him. Kiss the top of his head. Kiss his cheek, his lips. “Be good darling. Be brave. Try your best. Have fun, ok? Bye, you…” and I drop what I am doing, grab my bag and leave without looking back. I am Queen Elizabeth. I was her. Not anymore. Not at all. Fact. But she got me through, for sure.

It was terrible.  

18 comments:

family Affairs said...

Oh big fat tears are coursing down my face as i read this, I can't bear it - how is he doing? Can you Skype? FaceTime? anything? ......hope you're feeling like you can manage..... mine is off to uni next week and I guess I'll feel a little bit the same, even thought it's not so bad because he's older and it is what happens....BIG BIG BIG hugs and love Lx

Janelle said...

aw shucks, thanks lulu! no skype yet..but a barrage of sms's...he's scorching through air time! he has made a few pals...he just, well, misses home....we miss him! but the school is lovely and Kenya Airways found the bag so now he has double of everything...so that's good, then. xxx

Nicola said...

My heart aches when I read this... Makes me scared for when my turn will come.
Hugs to you.

Sabine said...

It gets easier, I promise you. I slept for a couple of weeks in my girl's dirty pjs until I felt right stupid. Today i can make a joke about it but I've seen her off so many times since, always in tears.

Linda Sue said...

oh christ, I am a wreck...so with you through this post and my heart is breaking utterly...Queen Elizabeth nowhere near, not even close!

nuttycow said...

Gosh - how difficult that must be. I'm sure he'll be right as rain though! Are you back home now?

Jeannie said...

Oh Janelle, I'm crying again. Sending you huge hugs. Us mothers are tender creatures... my boys were with my ex last night and his phone was saying he was unavailable. Thank God for small towns; I drove past his house and lurked unseen until I could be sure the lights were on in all the right rooms.

Janelle said...

oh thank you all for comments and commiserations...! yes. he'll be fine. i know! and yes, i am home, for what its worth (boda boda riots today between Phillips and Kwa Mrefu...whatEva). jeannie i did laugh at your late night lurking...! heh he...x janelle

elizabeth said...


Oh, oh, oh!!!

The lost luggage was very mean on the part of fate.

I can't even go into detail about my weepy response.
I do think boarding school toughens you up no end....in the end.....
( I went at age 9!) My father went at age 5.
He wrote a letter, circa 1916, original spelling,
"Dear Mother and Father,
I am very unhape......"

Well, you wrote about it beautifully.
What more can I say . HUGS.

ps mine were NOT sent away though daughter lives the other side of the ocean.

ox

Janelle said...

ah thanks elizabeth! he only went because he had insisted for the last two years that this is what he wanted! i was sent at 5 too...can you imagine?? but it was sort of what everyone did back then in those days...much love x

Family Affairs said...

Back again because his lost luggage has been keeping me awake. PHEW.

Also, thought you'd like to read about our death defying experience at Vic Falls - makes me think of you and that same train journey you and my father took to and from school.....Lxx

Angela said...

Oh man, janelle. Life is sometimes unbearable, but you survived, and became strong, and he will, too. It`s what makes life such an incredible journey. Love you.

Silvia said...

Oh your post took me right along with you when i read it tonight, and back to when my mom drove me 13 hours from durban to grahamstown to start varsity many years ago and did not even get to spend the first night there with me .. i can remember it to this day but the goodbyes do get easier, a little ... well maybe not easier but we become more used to them as time goes, that first one definitely is the worst. That's so completely not fair about his suitcase, i am so sorry. Wishing you strength and that he settles in soon soon. So so tough, thank you for sharing.

Lori ann said...

oh dear oh dear. a hug is all i can think of. i felt it all, what you went through. and although mine left home in different ways, it's never ever easy.
today i delivered my youngest at the airport, for her trip back home (her home 3000 miles away). i surprised myself that i only cried for a little, maybe it does get a little easier mamma. xxx

reluctantmemsahib said...

oh janelle, you made me cry. for all the goodbyes. it's so hard. it's so hard. such a fierce and brutal tug on that invisible umbilical cord. what can i say. that it get's easier. bollocks. i said goodbye to my melie last night in the harsh fluourescent glare of the airport in lusaka, bound for harare and nairobi and finally london and cambridge and i wrapped my arms around her and tried to kiss the top of her beautiful head and ant laughed and said, 'such a shorty, your mum'. tears and laughter. a hug for you and your brave, brave boy x

Amanda said...

i agree with lori that it does get a little easier. i just dropped my son off at college and it wasn't quite as emotional as last time. but this being your middle child and not yet done with high school, i honestly can't quite compare the two experiences.

at any rate, you are the elizabeths dear janelle. with the strength of both put together.

amandaxx

Moonboots said...

Hey Janelle. You made something that I have no experience of at all seem real and I could share your emotion. How brave to enable him to do the thing he really wanted to do. Sending him out into the world with your love. I hope you lose your sadness soon. I shall be checking in to see how you are doing and read more about your fascinating and different (to me) life.

toomuchaugust said...

i didn't come here for a week, not ready to read on. but now i am here and i see that you "are her". and wanted to tell you: you are me.

xo
s