Going home

I awoke that morning with an expectant feeling. I was going home. Just one more week and I would be getting on the plane. If all went, I might even get back in time to wish my wife a happy anniversary. Not that that was very likely. We were due in at 22.30 just 90 minutes before July 5 disappeared for another year. And in all my ten years experience of traveling to and from Africa I'd never had a plane arrive on time. Not that it was going to matter. After seven months apart who was going to quibble over 90 minutes. And anniversaries can be celebrated any time. Being together again was what counted.

But this was no time to stay in bed reminiscing. There was work to be done. I jumped up and headed outside for the shower. One glance up at the sky reminded me of the other reason for expectancy. Rainy season was approaching and the way the sky looked we might even get the first rains today. They were late coming. The farmers were getting irritable, they had to be able to plant soon. When would the rains come? Would they continue? Or would the crops flourish and then dry up for lack of water. The same questions every year hiding the terrible fight for survival.

My shower didn't last long today. It was too cold for that. The water I'd set to boil on my little petroleum stove would soon be ready. I headed through the door greeted my neighbours and got some bread from the corner. The same existential questions as yesterday... when would it rain?

I poured the hot water onto my coffee and started to relax. The baby chair opposite me no longer made me shudder. I was too close to going home for that to happen. But what did that baby look like now? He'd been just 11 months old when they left. And now? He could be there sitting next to me in a crowd and I wouldn't even recognise him. And how would he react to me? 7 months is a long time for a baby. At first, Janice would write and tell me how he always smiled whenever she showed him photos of me. But there'd been no letters now for months. They were probably all stuck up in the capital, stuck or pillaged for whatever contents might have been of value. The new order didn't seem to be any different from the old one.

I finished my coffee and started to think about packing. Everything had to be cleared out, as others would be staying in the house during our absence. The storehouse had more than enough room for our meagre belongings and the furniture would go into the station guest house. Ben was coming for everything at five that evening with the pickup. I had to have everything in the storehouse by then and we could load the furniture onto the pickup. I'd stay with them for a few days before taking the trip up to the capital to wait for my plane. It was best to get there a few days early, you never knew what might happen. And this time, I wasn't taking any risks.

I gathered the few things I would be taking with me and flung them in my usual fashion into the case. Janice wouldn't say anything this time, not after seven months absence. Then I set about packing my books, taking a lot more care with them. I wrapped all the dishes in tea cloths and clothes that were staying here and opened up the special dust and water proof box to pack them away. It was then I saw the little package wrapped in bright gift paper at the bottom of the box. "For Mum and Dad", it said. I stared amazed at it. This was the video for Janice's parents. As they wouldn't be getting to see their youngest grandchild that Christmas we'd had some friends with a video camera come over. They'd spent all day with us and done quite a bit of filming. They invited us round a few days later to show us the video they'd made. Janice's parents would be so proud. But in the end, they'd never got the film. They had something far more precious. They had Janice and Davy instead. And I was stuck here thousands of miles away with nothing. I'd remembered about the film and tried to find it to find it to watch at Christmas. Now it seemed so obvious that it would have been in the dust proof box until we'd had a safe opportunity to send it. But I'd not thought of that at the time.

Slowly, I undid the paper folding it away for another time. Tears welled up in my eyes as I turned it over and over in my hands. I could remember every detail of that film. Davy sitting on the mat in front of our house, his little sailor's hat on to protect him from the sun. It had been a present from my Dad, who'd passed away just a few weeks later. Davy climbing around on my stomach as I lay on my bed resting; the two of us singing "Old McDonald had a farm...; Davy cheerfully perched on top of our table in his little bath tub splashing around and laughing at us all; Janice nursing him, looking so beautiful and so contented. As all these scenes ran through my mind, I remembered that fateful morning we were separated. We'd woken up early to the sound of shooting. That was nothing out of the ordinary. But when it continued, we suspected something serious was going on. The uncertainty of not knowing. The agony of trying to decide whether to leave or stay put. In the end we left. The wrong decision. Things were far worse at the station. The radio announcement. All women and children were to be evacuated. Any men who chose to, could also leave. I remembered driving them to the base, seeing Janice wave goodbye, going back to an empty home, and the sight of that empty baby chair hitting me full in the face.

Ben wasn't angry when he arrived only to discover I wasn't ready. One look at my face was enough for him to realise what I'd being going through. Without a word he pulled up his sleeves and started loading the pickup. I quickly finished packing our things away and heaved them into the store room. I took my place next to Ben with relief in my heart. I was going home, at last.


wonderfully written,, and a tear jerker to boot!!!! excellent....

19 October 2007 at 11:22  

I t always amazes me how a single prompt can send people in such different directions. This was very well written. I love the autobiographical aspect of it.

19 October 2007 at 14:25  

I agree with square one. It has a lot of depth too.

19 October 2007 at 17:34  

I enjoyed all those details, the setting, the whole question about when will it rain... lends to such a rich story. And what a sad tale too.

Care to guess what's on "my" roll of film? ;-)

20 October 2007 at 00:36  

I really enjoyed this and the way you were able to bring the ending back to the beginning and tie it up so neatly.

The baby chair got me!

20 October 2007 at 14:26  

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