Where Ever You Go There You Are
From the top of the hill we looked down upon an evergreen forest, one huge carpet of trees as far as the Drakensburg Mountains, a distance away.
For a second or so I detected slight reluctance in Mother. I said ‘Why are we stopping here?’ I wondered how she decided on a sudden change of plan.
‘Chris darling …’ a deep sigh had me on edge. ‘I have something to say but not certain how to explain …’ She gnawed her lip, uncertain how to convey her ability to ensure I understood ‘You see, something terrible is going to happen.’ A catch in her tone. She turned away. It worried me.
‘What terrible thing?’ My mind went up a gear, her attitude and what she was about to say had me blurting, ‘You’re not ill or anything.’
‘You could say it’s much, much worse, Chris.’ She grasped and squeezed my hand; her lips brushed my cheek. She started to cry.
‘Go on then, tell me. I’m not a child anymore. I don’t believe it can be as bad as all that.’ Her pause strung disturbing silence across the vehicle. My stomach knotted. What was going on? ‘Is it really bad?’ Any joy I’d entertained about coming home retreated. Never easy to act a role never knowing what was about to break.
On a rush of breath, she said: ‘Tom and I are getting married.’ Without a pause she added, ‘We’ve decided that it would be best if you went to live with your father in England.’
The moment she said it, relief infused her. But had I heard this correctly? It can often take a while for some things to sink in, to analyse. Lost for anything meaningful, my, ‘Is this a joke of some kind?’ Sounded pitiful.
How serious could she ever look? ‘No, Chris darling, it’s not some kind of joke…’ Mocking me now. ‘Believe me, it is the truth. Please listen, allow me to tell you.’ She looked out at the bare plain, its few dust devils swirling as the breeze blew, imps and demons abandoning as she expounded: ‘The time your father left Burma three years ago to visit us in South Africa he came for a reason, to arrange a separation between us. He and I agreed that he would take custody of you. That he’d have your well-being at hand.’
‘But Dad said we would be together for ever and now you tell me I shall be leaving here. You told me fibs. Lies. Both of you!’ The echo of words said concerning the school tumbled: “I’m not going away; I want to stay with you. Mother, I love South Africa, you know it.’ I brooded, I couldn’t look at her. ‘How could you send me away because you want another man? I don’t understand.’
‘Chris dear,’ she said in a condescending way I tired of, ‘you are being absurd. You realise this is awful for me too. I don’t relish doing it, but I have little or no choice.’
I sneered. ‘You don’t want to do it … you have no choice? That’s real dandy.’
‘Christopher,’ she said, losing her edginess, ‘I’m aware this is extremely hard for you to understand but Tom and I love each other. Let me be plain on this, I don’t love your father anymore.’
I shrugged. That was it. Mother had made up her mind. ‘If you are this determined to marry I still see no reason for not being able to stay with you. I am your son. What’s more, I don’t really know Father. I’m being sent to a total stranger. ‘And I’m surprised you can love Tom. He’s a bully, he shouts at you a lot. He’s rough with you Mum. And he drinks.’ Deep within me where past times lingered, I seethed at their loss. ‘What of his children, Vivienne and John? If the gossip is true he never has anything to do with them.’ I wished dearly to be riding on those distant hills, to escape the feeling I was a captive audience of one, listening to her planned life for me. No, not strictly true, she selfishly thought of herself.
‘I know Tom doesn’t like me. He’s already decided he can have you all to himself.’ I caught her shock in an unblinking stare. ‘I’m right aren’t I?’
An awkward silence cradled the fraught atmosphere inside the car. And it confirmed much of what I said.
I eventually plucked up courage to suggest, ‘I’ll go and live with Auntie Babs and Michael. They’ll have me.’