Monday, January 24, 2005

My Son (A Journey)....A novel by Francis J.D. Hyland


By Francis J.D. Hyland

Chapter 1: The Dream

Ghana 1975

It was the day after Boxing Day. The weather was good; the season of the harmattan; hot, arid and dusty; the sky a yellowy haze; the air desert dry, a liberation from the muggy humidity of the rainy season. The petrol tank was full. The radiator fluid had been checked. Jodie, Denzil and Xavier, the suitcases and the boys’ surfboards were all loaded into the light blue Peugeot 404 Estate – a reliable workhorse of a car that had conveyed the Lewis family throughout Ghana on regular family adventures south from Kumasi to Elmina, Cape Coast, Senya Beraku and Accra on the coast; north-east to Amadzofe, nestled high on a mountainside above the cloud line; north to Mampong in the Northern Hills; and as far afield as Lomé, the capital of Togo. The clutch had been replaced fairly recently, the oil had been changed and so it was with confidence (along with a fair amount of excitement) that Albert stepped into the sturdy French automobile, pulling the heavy door closed with a solid “thunk!” He turned the key and the engine eagerly sprang to life.
“Who wants to go to the beach?” Albert’s voice was lively, backed by a broad, satisfied smile.
“I do! I do!” From the back bench seat, the boys squealed animatedly in unison, their arms raised and waving. Jodie was laughing gently, her calm, blue-gray eyes half closed and twinkling enticingly. Her blonde hair was swept forward over her right shoulder covering her collar bone. She was wearing a mid-thigh length, white linen A-line dress that she had had made by a local dressmaker from a design she had found in a recent Laura Ashley catalogue. Her arms were crossed across her lap. Albert leaned over and kissed her cheek, his beard tickling her soft, lightly tanned skin. How he loved this lady! He was drawn for a moment into her soft, alluring gaze, his mind drifting back to the air-conditioned lobby of the Continental Hotel in Accra, ten years earlier, seeing Jodie for the first time with her Gauloise cigarettes and Club beer, waiting for her friend, Mary Bauer (an American professor of Mathematics at the University in Legon), who had taken Jodie’s eighteen month old son Denzil to the zoo so that Jodie could squeeze in a visit to the hair salon. Before he had had to leave, Albert learned that she taught music at the Prempeh Girl’s College, she was recently divorced from her Ghanaian husband with whom she had had a son – the playful and easy-going Denzil – and that she planned to stay in Ghana, “for the time-being, at least.”
“Daddy?” Xavier’s little voice snapped Albert’s mind to attention.
“Are we there yet?” A quiet giggle followed.
“Just around this next bend.”
Jodie put her arm behind Albert’s shoulders, stroking his smooth, black hair. And then they were off.

Albert’s head almost hit the roof of the car. “That must have been a boa constrictor,” he took a deep breath to calm his frazzled nerves, “or perhaps a fully-grown African python.” He was needless to say, a little shaken. Whatever the species, it was huge! Albert hadn’t recognized what it was until the car was about to run over it; through the shimmering road haze it had looked like a line in the tarmac itself, a road surface repair, or the shadow of a tall, thin tree. Certainly no creature could have been so long as to stretch across the entire width of the road! With two loud thumps, the car had driven over the reptile. Xavier, jumping up to look out of the rear window, watched as the massive basilisk slithered off apparently unconcerned by the incident into the thick rainforest through which the road had been carved.
“It was a monster. And it’s still alive! The monster’s still alive!” At seven years old, Xavier was easily excited.
Denzil, four years older than his brother, was watching too. “It must have been a hundred feet long!”
Albert pushed the clutch in and allowed the car to coast along the road for a while. There were no other vehicles in sight, ahead or behind. Up until the late sixties, this road – the only passage through the rainforest that blanketed the country between the Ashanti region and the coast – had been nothing more than a rut-filled dirt road. The one-hundred and eighty mile journey from Kumasi to the coast road that now took a little over four hours by car had once taken six or seven! Throughout the sixties, the Lebanese had come in droves to Ghana and using their engineering expertise and foreign investments had been responsible for modernizing and improving the road system first designed by the British in the early forties. Albert listened for any new knocks, any unusual noises coming from the car. Everything seemed to be fine.
“We should stop for lunch soon. I’ll check that nothing’s come loose.”
“Not here; the snake’ll be angry with us for driving over him!” Denzil glanced behind him once more to make sure the snake wasn’t following them. After a quick picnic lunch on the edge of the forest, they continued on their journey. Traffic was surprisingly light as they reached the coast road and they were soon passing through tiny fishing villages – no more than a dozen or so thatched, mud huts tucked away amongst the palm trees, just off the road.

The approach to Elmina was always wonderfully mystical: the surf-misted sunlight; the curtain of palm trees through which one first glimpsed the spectrally-white edifice of the fort; the gloriously refreshing smell of the ocean; it was as though the town were a mirage, a figment of the imagination. From whichever direction one came (one either entered the town from the east or the west), the majestic, red tile roofed, Dutch-built Fort St. Jago, standing alone on a high hilltop, rose up strikingly from the forest that surrounded Elmina on three sides – the small town ran right up to the Atlantic ocean, to a golden curve of palm tree-lined beach with a river estuary that sliced through to a small fishing port. Albert had had a book published on the history of the Colonial forts and castles that lined the Central Region of the coast of Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast, and once a central point in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade) and was well-known throughout Ghana and Europe for his knowledge of Colonial West African Architecture. Seeing the imposing fort (now run as a guest house to which they were headed today), with its seventeenth-century architecture perfectly preserved, perched above Elmina, Albert always felt a stirring inside his body, a warmth spreading outwards as he admired the graceful design. Below the fort, the town – an eclectic mix of old, two and three story colonial buildings, some dating back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, ramshackle huts built from mud or wood, with rusting corrugated iron sheet roofs, and a few very modern, ‘out of place’ looking buildings (homes of wealthy Ghanaian businessmen) – bustled with life. On the other side of a new concrete bridge, on a rocky, wave-beaten promontory at the mouth of the narrow river that ran between the lagoons and salt marshes and between the busy port and the ocean, built right at the water-line, stood Elmina Castle. Much larger than the Fort St. Jago, Elmina Castle had been one of the primary slave holding prisons and would one day be featured extensively in the epic film portraying the life of a slave castle governor, Cobra Verde. (The castle at Cape Coast, a little way to the east, had been the largest and most prominent slave prison along the western coast of Africa, and the site of the infamous “doorway of no return”.)

The car was welcomed into town by a swarm of half naked, excited young children. Xavier and Denzil held their hands out of the windows to accept the hand pats that the children were offering as they ran alongside the slow moving Peugeot. The fort appeared to be in the sky as the car came around the final bend before the bridge; both Denzil and Xavier gazed in wonder (as they always did), their mouths hanging open, their eyes wide and unblinking at the view laid forth before them. Albert brought the car to a standstill at the foot of the unfeasibly steep hill and revved the engine teasingly. He looked back at the boys, a serious, concerned look on his face. The warm air was filled with the salty ocean spray and the pungent smell of drying fish.
“Do you think we’ll be able to make it? I think we can do it.”
The boys loved this game; not in the way children love ice cream or kittens or birthday parties, but rather, in the way they adore the thrill of being scared knowing that they are safe from harm, safe under their parent’s care; like when they are thrown high up into the air or swung around by the arms. The hill was indeed very steep. The narrow, brick-paved road was edged on one side by a deep concrete gutter and from where they were parked appeared to lead vertically up to the clouds, with the fort as the entryway into the heavens. An old woman, her body wrapped in a beautifully printed, sea-blue and sunflower-yellow piece of material, was sitting on the doorstep of one of the ramshackle wooden huts, a large, white enamel bowl full of soapy water on the ground in front of her, casually watching the Lewis’ while she did her laundry. With a lurch, the car leapt into action in a spirited attempt at the ascent. On both sides and behind the car, the children, their skin radiant and beautiful, myriad shades of brown and black, their little faces full of excitement, whooped in delight. Xavier gripped the seat cushion that he was sitting on as tightly as he could; his jaw was set rock-solid, his eyes were wide with terror.
About halfway up, Albert, letting out the accelerator a little way called out gravely, “I don’t think we’re going to make it!” He revved the engine loudly. He pulled up the handbrake lever. Some children had run up the hill alongside the car and danced around gaily, pointing and smiling, enjoying the drama.
“You two will have to get out and walk; there’s too much weight in here.” Albert turned to look at the boys. They were pressed as far back into the seat as it allowed, rigid like astronauts during lift-off. Denzil was grinning.
“Come on Nosh, we’ve got to get out.” (‘Nosh’ was the nickname he had given his brother, derived from ‘Dishcloth’, a name he had come up with after seeing Xavier regularly helping Kofi, the Lewis’ resident housekeeper, with the washing and drying of the dishes.) Seeing that the back occupants were preparing to exit, the children rushed to open the doors for the boys, a multitude of helping hands reaching into the interior of the steeply angled car. After the doors were closed, Albert and Jodie drove on up to the top of the hill where the guesthouse keeper, a friendly-looking, white-haired and bearded man, his skin wrinkled like old leather and as black as coal, was waiting to help them with the luggage. Denzil and Xavier, accompanied by a bevy of laughing children, reached the summit just as large, heavy raindrops began falling. Albert looked up at the sky. The rain was pouring from a solitary, voluminous, dark gray cloud directly above them that was passing languidly across the sun. The harmattan didn’t reach as far south as the coast and so although the winter season north of the thick rainforest meant five or six months of drought (and having to endure the fine coat of dust it left everywhere), the south was still susceptible to the wetter, tropical Atlantic weather systems. The guesthouse keeper quickly ushered Albert and Jodie up the steps to the small wooden drawbridge that lay across a modest, stagnant water-filled moat and led them into the fort. The boys remained outside, playing with the other children, clambering over the diminutive cannon that stood watchful over Elmina Castle, in the center of the parking area, running around the perimeter of the fort playing hide and seek as the cooling rain passed.

That night, as Albert gazed up at the white ceiling, bathed in a yellow light from the paraffin lamps in the courtyard below the open bedroom window, through the fine, white mesh mosquito net (hanging from little metal hooks in the ceiling) that was draped over the large, heavy wooden bed, he felt a calmness, a soul-filling contentment sweeping down over him. Jodie was sleeping peacefully beside him; her breathing was in time with the waves breaking on the beach next to the castle. Albert closed his eyes. From the blue-black, moonlit heavens above Elmina, Orion cast a watchful eye over the town.

England 1997

Albert awoke with a start. It continued to rain in the darkness outside. How he missed the croaking choirs of toads serenading one another that one heard constantly in Ghana when it rained! Winter in Durham could be disheartening with the dampness and cold that bore into your bones even when you were indoors. Anticipating the inevitable yawn, he drew a hand up to his oily, aching face. The dream had begun to unsettle him a while back, awakening him at least once each night that it over-ran his subconscious mind, but he still hadn’t mentioned it to Jodie.

Lying there, staring into the darkness, playing the dream over in his mind, he saw his son Xavier in that great living room in San Francisco shyly handing the keys to Jodie, dressed as always like a Laura Ashley model. (He loved her from the moment he first met her in Ghana: so elegant, so beautiful.) The dream then moved to the Lake District, to the old stone bed and breakfast with its views of Lake Windemere from the master bedroom and dining room windows.

Albert looked over at Jodie, her face bathed in the soft light from the hallway. San Francisco had offered so much promise, Xavier had written in one of his letters, but now those early days of hope were long gone. Was the recurring image of Xavier, so successful and settled, a subconscious representation of his own unrequited achievements or a glimpse of the future? The dream was bothering him. Why didn’t he just get it off his chest and tell Jodie over breakfast? No. It was going to be a busy day for her; Thursdays always were; maybe after supper. With that decided, he drifted back to sleep, listening all the while for the toads serenading their mates in the rain…

Xavier and Katie were staying in one of the front bedrooms; it was their third visit since Jodie and I had moved into the renovated nineteenth century farmhouse. We had spent nothing; everything had been organized for us and arranged so that we could begin operating immediately upon moving in. Even advertisements had been prepaid five years in advance in twelve monthly magazines worldwide, three national newspapers and the local paper, The Cumbria Times. Our closest neighbors – farmers mostly – were a mile and a half away in the small town of Ambleside. Much of this area had been owned by the same families for generations, yet we had been taken in warmly by everyone we had come to know in the last two years.

We spent much of our time organizing walks and scenic excursions for our guests. Our housemaid Irene prepared breakfast for the visitors (Americans mostly, due to the half page advertisements in five American travel magazines) and for us. One couple from Perry, Iowa had come to stay three months ago and were now booked in until mid February. They had planned to travel around England and Wales for six months but so far they had spent one week in London and three months with us in Cumbria. Jodie and I joined them at least twice a week on walks and then for dinner in Ambleside. We would be sorry to see them leave: they had spent two years in Ghana during our time there and we shared fond memories of the country and its people.

With Xavier and Katie visiting, we had enjoyed touring the Lake District, showing them all the places of interest around us that we ourselves enjoyed seeing time and time again. Xavier and Katie had given us a sturdy Mitsubishi jeep that had come in useful on many occasions; snowdrifts and thick mud were common hazards on these narrow country roads. The hefty burgundy jeep had certainly saved us from many a headache.

One morning, the four of us drove up to Carlisle for the January sales. It was a perfect winter's day with clear skies and fresh snow evenly powdered over the fields and roads. Once we arrived in Carlisle, Xavier and I left the ladies to their shopping and found a small café by the river.

As we sat down at a table next to the window, Xavier spoke abruptly, as though he’d just solved some complex equation. “Dad, I’ve never expressed in words just how grateful I am for your influence on my life.” He looked down at his teacup for a moment and began picking up sugar crystals that had fallen from his teaspoon with the tip of his index finger, dropping them into his cup once he’d collected a few. “Through your ideals, I’ve seen the caring, the compassion for Africa you still have, and I know that deep inside me are images of myself as a beggar or fruit seller coming to your door hoping to find you there to tell the housekeeper not to send me away, knowing that you will give me some money so that my family shall eat tonight.”

I looked at the tears running down his cheek and gently laid my hand on his forearm. We had grown so close recently; we both knew we had years to catch up on. Outside, below the window, the river Eden flowed steadily heading west towards the freedom of the open sea. Xavier meditatively stirred his tea and gazed at the hills. He had grown into such a strong and handsome young man, much like I remembered myself all those years ago, when I left London for the mysteries of Africa. He had taken on America and had come out on top. His childhood in Ghana had made him so confident anything could be achieved that he had fought for everything he wanted and succeeded. I could see in his eyes that same joi de vivre I had felt in Ghana.

After a light lunch at a restaurant on the main street, the four of us drove across the moors, so desolate in winter, to Coniston where my father’s ashes had been scattered. We walked slowly, stepping carefully through the snow, our feet crunching through the icy white carpet, a sound like fresh apples being bitten into. The gray stone monolith stood alone, an ancient Saxon sentinel in the wilderness. It was here that I had said my final farewell to my father two years ago.

The sky had darkened considerably and at this elevation, the wind nipped around our exposed faces like a flock of wild darting crows, as though forewarning us of a greater force about to be unleashed. Jodie had had the foresight to bring a warm scarf and woolen hat, both pale lavender, but still she sank into the warmth my arms provided. Xavier set up his camera on the tripod, and with the auto timer on, ran over to join us next to the Saxon pillar that watched over my father.

Evening began to fold over us as we drove home, the four of us still silent. June and Will Lockheart were sitting in front of the stone fireplace in the living room when we got home, shadows weaving about them, their tired faces glowing deep orange. June told us of a phone call they’d had from their son in Des Moines. Apparently there had been a terrible snowstorm that had lasted four days and most of the mid west had been brought to a standstill. We were all thankful for the mild winter we were having.

After the Lockhearts had retired to bed, we took their places by the fire. Closing my eyes, the aroma of the fresh, crackling pine logs carried me gently deep into a luscious mountain forest. Katie brought in four mugs of hot cocoa. While holding the mug to my lips, I gazed into the jumping, spitting flames, the smell of chocolate mingling with the pine. The wind echoed down the chimney like a wailing, lost soul, a sound I remembered frightening me as a child in London during the war. I’d imagine hundreds of ghosts whistling across the rooftops finding a suitable chimney every now and then to swoop down, as a passageway out of the eternal journey of death.

Jodie listened intently as Xavier recounted the wonderful trip he and Katie had taken last September to Honduras to visit our elder son Denzil and his native wife Nina: the fantastic blue peaks of Pukaopalaca (Mayan for Imposing beauty); the real life cowboys with silver pistols on their belts; the vast coffee plantations and the endless pine forests. Denzil had met his wife whilst living in Birmingham and the two of them had flown through courtship, marriage and the move to Nina’s hometown of Corquin Copan within eight months.

I put the almost full mug of cocoa, now unpleasantly tepid like airline coffee, on the mahogany table we had brought from Ghana, rose and shuffled to the bay window. I stood for a while, my eyes like beams scanning the darkness beyond the leaded glass. Ambleside twinkled like the first small sparkling Christmas decoration, alone on some gigantic tree. It was as if the Universe was about to be created, the calm of nothingness before the Big Bang. The fire crackled suddenly, the fresh logs burning slowly, the aroma of pine here by the window was mixed with the faint lemon scent of furniture polish on the dark oak plant stand to my left.

The dream ended here. Albert always awoke with those last few sensations vivid in his mind, sometimes so clear he would excitedly check around the bedroom to make sure he and Jodie were really in that farmhouse; and that Xavier really did have a house in San Francisco with that great living room and its fantastic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. But reality quickly sunk in. This was it: this was his life, in this small concrete bungalow and this constant pain.

Chapter 2: Albert Lewis

Albert Scott David Lewis was born in Croydon, London in nineteen thirty-five. His father, an active member of the British Communist Party for many years had died at the ripe old age of ninety-five (still believing). His mother, ten years younger, was still going strong. Two cosmopolitan sisters, both younger and both back in England after worldly travels, lived in the south, two children each.

As an architect, Albert had achieved everything any of his contemporaries could have aspired to achieve. His teaching throughout his seventeen years spent in Ghana, firstly at the University of Legon in Accra, then at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi had placed him in front of hundreds of students, all eager to learn from a western professor. There were also the independent projects: the Mampong babies’ home and guesthouse; the lavish new cathedral in Accra; the proposition and supervision of the renovations to the slave forts and castles on the coast (and the resulting book, which had become a veritable bible for anyone wishing to study Colonial Africa) and other such fulfilling projects that Albert had nailed his name to. Africa had been a vast, mysterious, imposing continent at first, but had soon welcomed him into its great arms willingly, offering a wonderful climate, job satisfaction, upper class living, as well as poisonous snakes, scorpions, malaria and other potentially deadly diseases. Albert still loved Ghana immensely, having found no other country to be as welcoming during his travels throughout Africa: the Ghanaians were by far the most genuinely friendly and caring people he’d ever encountered. He still did work for CEDECOM, the Ghanaian tourism development board, traveling to Ghana twice a year to monitor the renovation work being done on the numerous slave forts and castles that line the coast. This work provided a welcome and much needed supplement to Jodie’s income from music and piano teaching.

Since being retired from his post at Newcastle University’s Department of Architectural Development Overseas, Albert had sent off copies of his resume to various institutes worldwide, unsuccessfully so far, but he still had periodical work with different cultural societies, UNESCO being one taking an interest in his knowledge of colonial Africa, and there was always the possibility of a permanent residency position in Ghana, at Cape Coast, supervising the work being done on the castle there. Oh, to be back in Ghana, away from the cold winds, the sleet and bitter winters of England. Jodie had expressed her desire to return to the therapeutic warmth of Ghana many times: if only.

Life in Durham in this bungalow, part of Hutchinson farm, although beautifully situated with fields stretching for miles in every direction, the river Wear and a small lake within walking distance, renting this small home on the outskirts of the city had seemed like such a drop in standards for Albert and Jodie. Entering the property market in England in one’s late forties was not an easy thing to do, especially coming from a second world country whose currency was practically worthless in Britain in nineteen seventy-eight and essentially having to start from scratch. At one time, one could get two Cedis to the Pound (the currency was then worth about the same as the US dollar), however, when the Lewis’ emigrated back to England, renting a quaint old converted mill house near Stone Henge in the tiny village of Heytesbury in Wiltshire, one was lucky to scrape two hundred Cedis to the Pound. This deplorable state of affairs, acerbated by the Ghanaian Government’s new law prohibiting travelers from leaving the country with more than two hundred and fifty thousand Cedis, meant that Albert and Jodie had to abandon a good portion of their savings in their bank account and land in England with very little to show for the almost two decades that they had worked in Ghana.

This bungalow was the ninth home in England the Lewis’ had moved into, the first one though since the children had grown and flown the nest. Parenthood is a strange thing, pulling you closer to your children year by year and then all of a sudden slapping your cheek as you watch your flesh and blood drift further and further away, ultimately finding a point just beyond your reach. Regular letters from Xavier and Denzil were exciting interludes for Albert and Jodie in the monotonousness of their present situation, a flashback to the incredible life they had once led exploring new worlds and cultures.

Xavier and Katie had left England for Key West, Florida in March, nineteen ninety-two, where they spent two adventure filled years (including surviving Hurricane Andrew, seeing firsthand the absolute destruction it caused – almost the entire city of Homestead, to the south of Miami, razed to the ground – whilst driving through on route to South Beach to celebrate Xavier’s twenty-forth birthday two weeks after Andrew had hit) before moving to Kissimmee, still enjoying the tropical weather, hurricanes, mosquitoes and all that Florida had to offer, and were now settled into an apartment in Burlingame, an affluent suburb of San Francisco. Katie was working for United Airlines as a flight attendant and Xavier was an assistant manager of The Sahara, a successful restaurant in town.

Denzil and Nina were living in San Pedro Sula, the second city of Honduras, having spent a year in Nina’s hometown of Corquin Copan, and with the aid of an automobile accident settlement they had received in Birmingham, had set up an International Language school. They had also invested some of the money in dairy cattle – as precious as gold in the mountainous regions of Central America.

All in all, one would think, the achievements of the Lewis children would be enough to make any parent proud of their offspring. But the recurring dream Albert kept having had become an enigma to him. Was it a premonition of a possible future? Could Xavier achieve so much? Or maybe it was just the manifestation of inadequacies Albert subconsciously saw in his son. The answer, Albert felt would reveal itself only through self-scrutiny; the idea of which, he did not relish.

Chapter 3: Insecurities

Thursday began as every day did: a cup of tea in bed; Daisy fed and watered (sometimes Albert would glance up as he placed the dish of Whiskers down for Daisy, expecting to see Sheba come skipping in through the cat flap even now, three months after her death); Daisy always eschewing the plate of cat food having the more interesting and alive option of fresh field mice available outside. Since moving from the three story Victorian end-terrace home near the city center to this modern concrete bungalow built adjacent to the old Hutchinson farmhouse, Daisy had discovered her greatest talent (next to furniture and carpet clawing); that of wildlife hunting, and a prolific hunter she had certainly become. Four days earlier, apparently no longer content with the sparrows, starlings, field mice and other like sized creatures that were to be captured in the surrounding fields, she somehow, goodness knows how, managed to kill a fully grown water rat (endangered in England according to a recent study) and drag the dripping, matted carcass the half mile from the river to the bungalow, leaving it hidden in the kitchen behind the larder door!

After setting down Daisy’s food, Albert would wash and shave and then prepare breakfast: a glass of orange juice, oatmeal or wheat cereal with low fat milk (except on Tuesdays when soft boiled eggs were on the menu and on Saturdays when fried eggs, bacon and grilled tomatoes were the treat of the week) followed by two slices of whole wheat toast spread thinly with butter and Jodie’s homemade orange marmalade or raspberry jam, accompanied by a carafe of freshly ground coffee.

The rain had stopped shortly before Albert awoke and having drawn apart the bedroom curtains, he stood for a while, trance-like almost, somberly scanning the low, dark clouds, listening to the sound of water heating up in the electric kettle. He imagined, for one brief moment, the sky bursting open, spewing like some great volcano, deathly black oil onto Durham city with its Cathedral’s towers standing proudly on the hill that was the center of the vista seen from the bungalow’s bedroom windows.

During the autumn, the scene laid out before this bedroom window had been inspirational almost. Colors seemed to be changing day by day, the landscape going through some magical metamorphosis. Each morning, shifting hues would dance from tree to tree, discarded leaves no longer necessary in any further designs twitching in the air. The shapes of the trees themselves seemingly transforming as though they were reaching upwards and outwards, stretching at the end of a long, warm summer, preparing to sleep through the winter. The sun also playing an important role, casting varying shadows this way and that way, throwing multicolored shafts of light obliquely down through the branches onto the patchwork of fallen leaves. The whole gradual process had been marvelous to observe. But autumn had long since been driven from the land and for weeks now, Albert had come to this window and looked out at desolation and misery.

The bungalow felt damp. Most of the carpet had dried out without too much shrinkage and could be saved. But the dampness that Albert felt came from the walls. The water pipe that had burst in the attic ran along the top of the wall separating the living room and hallway, and so as a result the majority of escaping water had simply run down the center and both sides of this wall. On entering the bungalow, one could feel a striking coldness, almost eerie were it not for the brightness and homely atmosphere of the place. It was this feeling that struck Albert suddenly, and turning away from the window, he walked to the kitchen.

Jodie looked up as he entered. “Sleep well?”
“Better. I was up once or twice. The rain, I suppose.”
Jodie could see the fatigue in his face. The texture of his skin, slightly paler than usual and noticeably rougher than it had been in the weeks following their return from San Francisco. She saw it too in his eyes, a little bloodshot, but still an attractive sparkling blue. Hearing the clack of the cat flap she looked across the kitchen checking to see if Daisy had found an alternate breakfast; with nothing to present, the haughty cat nonchalantly sauntered over to her plate and began eating. “Don’t forget Mr. Wainwright’s coming at twelve. And show him the ceiling in the closet.” Jodie had finished her breakfast but allowed Albert to begin his before excusing herself from the table.

In winter, the lane leading to Hutchinson farm could be quite treacherous, requiring a few extra minutes for the drive into the city. Jodie had on one occasion, managed to lodge a wheel of the car in a deep, mud-filled rut, bringing the car to an abrupt halt and requiring the help of a tractor from the farm to pull it out. Many years ago, the farm track had been widened and tarmacked, but shoddy workmanship and over usage by heavy farm vehicles had left the lane looking more like a minor thoroughfare in Ghana than a road that was only two miles from the center of an English city.

Once the car was out of sight, Albert returned to the breakfast table with a fresh cup of coffee. He had three and a half hours until the painting contractor was due: the estimate for the repainting of the water-damaged areas shouldn’t take longer than an hour to prepare, and then another three hours before Jodie would return from school. There was plenty to do in that time, things that needed to be done: a paper for UNESCO that had to be completed by mid-February on the continuing work being done in Ghana by CEDECOM (progress Albert had recorded during his visit there in September) and also the proposal for a UNESCO sponsored renovation project of James Fort in The Gambia. Both were steadily being worked on, but this morning Albert felt a distraction that denied him the creative urge he needed to write.

Newcastle University had employed Professor Albert S.D. Lewis for fifteen years as Assistant Director of the Department of Architectural Development Overseas, part of their post-graduate Architecture school. Albert’s students were from second and third world countries mostly: Egypt, Angola, Algeria, Zambia, South Yemen, Chile – countries that Albert had either visited or done in-depth research on. Jodie had been able to join him on a couple of trips, the two week long visit to Egypt she’d especially enjoyed. (Her Grandfather had been an archeologist there for many years and had recorded the discovery, in the early nineteen hundreds, of the tomb of a young prince at Sakarah. He had spent most of his adult life conducting excavations in Egypt and Palestine.) With Newcastle Polytechnic merging with the University, sharing buildings and staff, downsizing had been necessary: an Assistant Director of an offshoot of the Architecture Department was no longer required and so Albert and his secretary had been given their termination letters.

It had been a difficult time for Albert and Jodie. The responsibility of being the breadwinner along with her other household duties had made Jodie feel now even more that the world was rising up against her, testing once more her endurance. An attempted overdose six years ago had made the Lewis family stop and examine itself for flaws, problems unseen by husband and sons. At that time, Jodie had been feeling the insecurities, the uncertainty of mid-life living in rented accommodation, the hurt of having one son living away from home and the other showing great disrespect and disregard for authority, education, employment and his elders, something all parents fear most, but subconsciously expect from adolescent children. Luckily that day, Jodie had realized that she had made a mistake and had phoned Albert at the University soon after swallowing the pills and cried for help.

Albert, these days, feared a re-emanation of Jodie’s insecurities and had desperately tried to hide this fear since losing his post at the University. Both he and Jodie knew that their present situation wasn’t hopeless. Jodie was teaching music two days a week at a private girls’ school and also had built up a very successful piano teaching business with over forty pupils at home. Her income covered the household expenses and with the periodical work Albert was doing, certain luxuries were allowed, such as the two-week holiday last year visiting Denzil and Nina in Honduras and Xavier and Katie in San Francisco.

It pained Albert to think that throughout the years spent back in England, they had managed to live with the assumption that should things go wrong here, there would always be a job for him somewhere else, with accommodation provided. The seventeen years in Ghana had been spent living in houses provided by the Universities: lavish, colonial buildings with servant’s quarters and large gardens tended by the housekeepers and their families. But now it seemed he and Jodie lived with whatever came their way, waiting for something better to come along. This idea of just getting by, of barely surviving, was the source of much anxiety and Albert knew that Jodie too must be feeling the same trepidation.

Chapter 4: The secret underground bunkers

With the breakfast dishes cleaned up and the sky brightening slightly, Albert left for the river walk, hoping the exercise would clear his head a little, allowing his thoughts to focus on the work at hand. During the summer, he and Jodie had enjoyed many walks along the riverbank watching the schools of trout and minnows that filled this and other waterways all over the North of England, camouflaged in the dark river weeds. The trout had been released from farms that had once supplied the fishmongers of every major town in the area with an abundant supply of fresh fish, but had been put out of business by the larger and more economic farms in Cumbria and Northumberland. The trout were unexpectedly unattractive; as nervous as rats (of that color too) and as swift and devious and silent as rats as they swam for the camouflage that the weeds provided.

There were nettles and tall reeds alongside the path, reeds cleared here and there by fishermen who would spend weeks searching for a prime location, which once discovered, would attract, gradually as word spread, more and more of these hobbyists so that in some areas of the river walk, one would come across long stretches of flattened reeds made even more unattractive by the discarded snack wrappers, cigarette butts and cut lengths of fishing line, litter that Albert and Jodie would on occasion, collect and take home. They both regarded this path as their own private garden and would show no civility to anyone they encountered on their strolls, passing in silence the fishermen seated with their thermos flasks of hot soup or tea, tackle boxes, tins of writhing maggots, and their waste all around them. The colder weather had reduced the number of these ‘trespassers’ so that during the early days of winter, Albert and Jodie had relished the serenity of nature; the faint smells of hay and manure (sometimes not quite faint enough); the various scents of winter wildflowers: crocus; azaleas; snowdrops; winter aconites, and would listen to the sounds of wildlife and the bubbling of the water running over the rocks and pebbles in the shallower parts of the river.

Large stepping stones had been laid across the river in areas where the riverbed almost reached the surface, making a crossing easy enough for even the most unsteady walker. At its widest point along this stretch, the river was no broader than twenty feet and in some places narrowed to seven or eight feet. Towards these narrower parts, the river walk divided in two, one path following the riverbank, the other leading away, most of the time, to higher ground, as the water would frequently overflow here after heavy rains, completely flooding the riverside path. It was one such fork that today Albert came upon after an hour or so. At most of these forks, Albert had explored both paths on his many hikes, taking all the higher ones on his outward journey and all the lower ones (if passable) on his homeward treks. But today at this one in particular, he could not recall ever having explored the upper path that lead steeply up off to his left. It was close to a crossing point that he often used, there being some disused army supply bunkers in the field on the other side of the river.

These underground concrete bunkers had been abandoned in the Sixties, the army holding on to the land until only recently, a local landowner then snapping it up at auction. Varying development plans for the forty-acre plot had been submitted to the city’s planning department, but none so far had met with the approval of Durham’s strict planning officers and so the bunkers had been left to decay. The original fencing remained on three sides of the field, the side facing the river having collapsed its foundations, eroded over the years by the rising and falling water levels.

The bunkers were not visible from the river walk and only after clambering up the steep bank did one come across the fallen fence with its rusting ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY-TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED’ signs. These signs, oddly, were facing upwards as though a mighty force, rising silently out of the gentle waters of the river Wear had landed an attack on the secret underground supply bunkers, rushing the perimeter fence, toppling it in one fell swoop, the useless wire mesh and iron poles now lying forgotten and overgrown by the wild grass and weeds. The signs were now home to snails and small crawling bugs.

Even from eye level, once one had walked over the fallen fence, the presence of the bunkers was no more than hinted at. Barely perceptible were dark shadowy areas in the landscape, like little peeping eyes, and long, rectangular bare sand colored strips, all running parallel to the horizon, that disappeared in places behind clumps of trees – small woods that had been planted during the time of large, rambling country estates; a time when a few noble families (the landed gentry) had owned the entire countryside in this region, employing the local peasants as groundsmen, stable-hands and house servants; a time when the noblemen would enjoy their days strolling around their immaculately tended gardens, or hunting pheasants in the woods that had been planted to serve as homes for the wild birds.

With its efficient camouflage, this field had been left virtually undiscovered by other walkers, (on maps too, it appeared non-descript) and it had only been Albert’s overly inquisitive nature that had taken him beyond the fallen fence. (Following the war, Albert’s mother, appreciating her young son’s extraordinarily inquisitive and adventurous nature, had allowed him the freedom to explore the countryside beyond their hometown in suburban Croydon; Albert would pack himself a lunch box and head off, compass and maps in his pockets, on full-day bicycle expeditions, returning after dark, safe and sound, and with exciting tales of his adventures.) Many local farmers erected boundary fences, some more secure than others, with barbed wire and notices threatening a great retaliation against those with a disregard for other’s privacy and property. And so, with nothing exciting to be seen from the fallen fence, most of the passing hikers would have returned to the river walk, preferring to discover the mysteries almost every river hides.

It was one warm and hazy afternoon during the summer that Albert had taken the hints the field gave and found, to his surprise, ten identically constructed concrete bunkers, the little peeping eyes were stairways leading down to heavy, rusted iron doors. The rectangular sand colored strips edged by wild grass like a cricket pitch in a small Caribbean town were the roofs of the bunkers. If one stood at the opposite end, facing the stairway, one still had little idea of just exactly what these things were.

With a stomach turning, horror film creak, and a huge effort, the ancient iron door at the foot of one stairway opened and Albert was at once over-whelmed by the dead, musty odor, much like that of a quiet old church only many times more powerful, and he stepped back suddenly, almost falling over the bottom stair, catching just in time, the door frame. Composing himself and prepared for adventure, he slowly entered the darkness, the sunlight casting a long, golden shaft deep into the room, through which clouds of dust, awoken after decades of slumber by Albert’s footsteps, swirled seductively.

Scraps of metal, remnants of ammunition boxes perhaps, were scattered about the floor. Pieces of torn tarpaulin lay over piles, two or three feet high, of broken wood. Leaning against the gray walls were a large number of square metal sheets in groups of five or so. Moving carefully so as not to raise too much dust, Albert tentatively picked up one of the metal sheets, recognizing it immediately as a target. The dull orange paint, once bright and luminous maybe, was flaking around the edges and around the few dents, some knocked through by consecutive bullet hits. The black circle in the center was more damaged, peppered with numerous holes. It was one of these ‘relics’ that Albert had carried home that day and hung on the wall in his study, many times since attaining a deep sense of complete relaxation from staring at it. He had found this target very useful on many occasions as an escape from the pressures of his life.

The secret underground army supply bunkers had become his and he frequently stole away from the bungalow whilst Jodie was teaching at the girl’s school, spending hours rummaging around his ten private stores. He had shown them briefly to his wife one day but Jodie had felt nauseous as soon as the putrid smell of gunpowder in the second bunker they’d entered reached her nostrils and she hadn’t wished to visit the place again.

Chapter 5: The painting contractor

On their walks together, Albert and Jodie had never ventured further than the crossing point that led to the secret underground army supply bunkers, Jodie tiring slightly after the two miles of uneven ground they had already covered, preferring to retrace her steps knowing that four miles was enough exercise for her aging legs, and so when walking alone, Albert had always gone to his ten private stores.

The path that Albert now stood before, leading steeply up away to the left from the fork at the riverbank was uncharted territory for him. The ground rose quite severely – a good test of shoe tread, especially today after the previous nights’ downpour. Striding forward with youthful vigor up the steep path, Albert began his climb. Tall thickets soon obscured the river below and as he continued, Albert noticed thankfully, that the bunkers too were hidden from view on this upper path; from this elevation, they would have been plainly visible. The view though, to either side of the thickets was beautiful: the countryside stretching for miles to the left, woods dotted here and there, and to the right, the magnificent view of Durham city with its ancient castle and Cathedral perched on a hilltop.

His mind was engrossed in schemes to somehow ensure the protection of these thickets, his eyes, like radars, automatically scanning the rough path for safe footing, when SMACK! A low hanging branch caught Albert’s forehead and immediately the sharp pain of a blunt incision swept over him, buckling his knees. Falling forward, catching himself with an outstretched hand, the other already pressed to the bleeding wound, he saw the white fog rolling quickly across his field of vision. He heard a long, deep groan coming from somewhere, he couldn’t tell where exactly, and then he blacked out.

When he came to, the pain had been numbed a little by the cold, but was still enough to stop him moving for a moment. Opening his eyes, he saw his precious thickets reaching the sky, a mass of slate gray clouds, so low, it appeared, Albert thought he could reach up and tear them apart like fiberglass insulation. He imagined himself, arms outstretched, hands delving into the dark clouds, his fingers breaking through, suddenly feeling the warmth of the sun above, and then frantically ripping and pulling apart the hateful grayness, revealing a deep sapphire sky and the warming golden sun.

A dart of pain shot backward through his head making him flinch. He could taste blood and soil in his mouth. Slowly lifting his head from the damp earth, he collected his saliva and spat. Where his head had been was an oblong patch of darker, blood soaked earth. Touching his left hand to where the pain seemed to be coming from, he felt the warm smoothness he had hoped would not be there. The smell of the river, a smell common to all rivers in England, carried up by a light, cool breeze finally registered in his subconscious, reviving him fully.

A little shaky on his feet, Albert stood for a moment and wiped his face with his handkerchief. Before heading for home, knowing that the wound may need medical attention, Albert looked to see what lay further up the path. No more than twenty feet away was a barbed wire fence beyond which cattle were grazing. It was apparent from the way the path quickly faded close to the fence that many other ‘pioneers’ had conquered the steep climb before him hoping to find their own hidden paradise only to find a field of cows.
‘What a lovely place for a picnic’, Albert thought, his mind working to dissemble the pain.

The journey home seemed to last an eternity, each step he took sending a sharp pain shooting through his head. Back at the bungalow, he examined the cut on his forehead. Thankfully, it didn’t require a hospital visit and was soon cleansed and bandaged. Albert felt some dizziness, and so sat at his desk to wait for Mr. Wainwright to arrive. It was eleven forty-five.
Mr. Wainwright was a stocky, balding man in his late fifties probably; somehow slightly comical in appearance -- much like Albert’s father had been. As he walked around the bungalow with his round, pink, shiny head sitting flush on his broad shoulders darting this way and that way like a pigeon, Albert thought his gait, lolloping from side to side and his oddly long arms swinging loosely, made him look like an orangutan.

During one of the infrequent holidays Albert’s mother and father had spent with them in Ghana: his parents had attended his wedding in Accra, and again two years later, after Xavier (their first grandchild) had been born, Albert recalled how his father had so enjoyed watching Xavier perform for him. Xavier, a late walker, had taken to giving impromptu performances whenever the Lewis’ had company, sometimes dressing up in Albert’s clothes, impersonating Groucho Marx, complete with a cigar tube for a prop, or scampering about mimicking the monkeys he had seen at Kumasi zoo. Up until the age of eighteen months, before he discovered the correct use for his legs, Xavier would move around the house – with its wooden and concrete floors throughout – on his belly, using his arms and legs to propel himself forward as though he was swimming (he had learnt to swim by the age of ten months). Xavier would interrupt dinner parties that Albert and Jodie hosted quite often, by sliding into the dining room and under the table, much to the delight of the guests, bringing the dinner to a halt until Jodie had managed to capture the rascal and return him to his crib.

Whenever his parents came on holiday to Ghana (they didn’t come too often as Albert’s mother was fearful of the “mysterious, dark continent”, as she called it), Albert’s father would spend hours playing with his grandson, showing little Xavier how to walk like an orangutan or bounce higher on the trampoline the Lewis’ had in the garden. The young child loved to show off his lolloping monkey walk and deftness on the trampoline whenever he had the chance. Albert still saw in Xavier the wildness, the freedom of spirit he had as a child growing up in Ghana. In a way, he envied him for it.

“I could start on Saturday if you like.” They were standing next to Mr. Wainwright’s old yellow van.
Pulling his thoughts together hastily, Albert replied. “That’ll be fine. So how much in total?”
“Two fifty. And we’ll be cleaned up by four on Monday.”
“Wonderful. Thank you again.” As Albert watched the yellow van head down the muddy lane, he felt the dizziness returning. He looked at his watch: ‘1:20pm’.

Albert returned quickly to his study; the past hour was missing and more importantly, he couldn’t remember if he’d shown the painting contractor the areas Jodie had specified as the first to be completed. He could call Mr. Wainwright after Jodie had begun her teaching at home; he was more likely to find him in at that time and so wouldn’t have to leave a message on his answering machine. Albert sat staring through the framed wedding photograph of Xavier and Katie, one of a set Xavier had sent back along with a video tape of the ceremony and reception with Katie’s mother Elizabeth Selleck who had managed to make it over to Kissimmee for the wedding.

Xavier had phoned two weeks before the wedding date, apologizing for the short notice but still hoping Albert and Jodie would be able to make it over to Florida. Work commitments, but mainly the lack of available funds had made the trip impossible. Albert had felt a deep sadness listening to Xavier as he described the wedding and honeymoon plans, and having to sound optimistic to his son about making it over for the event. The idea of getting by, of lasting, of seeing their days out with the assumption that there would always be a post for him somewhere had at that moment angered Albert so much that he’d had to pass the phone to Jodie and shut himself off in the bedroom in tears. What had become of his life? His son, out of reach, about to experience the greatest day of his life and Albert didn’t have the money to be there with him.

The photographs that Elizabeth had brought back from her visit to Kissimmee had been put into an album along with other photographs Xavier had sent frequently in letters, an album that was cherished by Albert and Jodie and shown off proudly. Yes, it was indeed pride, Albert realized, that he had felt each time he had shown the pictures to family and friends.

But questions from those who saw the album – questions about what Xavier was doing, the need for details, the scrutiny over his son’s emergence into the adult world, a world that Xavier had rejected, preferring to remain in a state of adolescent rebellion up until the good news came, just over a year ago, that he and Katie were finally settled in Burlingame – these ‘interrogations’ from family especially, had knocked Albert’s fanciful views of Xavier’s achievements out of focus. Many times he had defended his son’s honor, skirting around job names such as ‘bus boy’ and ‘Tee shirt salesman’, embellishing and touching up any news as though polishing a used car in an attempt to improve its value.

It was this to-ing and fro-ing between desire, propension and reality that Albert, whenever he thought about Xavier’s (and his own) life and present situation, hated having to endure. The dream was becoming a nightmare. He knew that with Jodie’s analysis he would be better able to fight the battle his normally realistic and lucid, but recently more audacious, insidious mind had instigated.
Chapter 6: The journey

Albert and Jodie had spent the previous Christmas in San Francisco – one week in a motel that Xavier had booked for them. The motel had been very close to the airport, and so every morning at around five thirty, Albert and Jodie were awakened by the ground-shaking roar of jet engines. They had accepted this arrangement without question; perhaps Xavier and Katie needed their privacy; needed seclusion. The Lewis family had never been an open family; never sharing problems; never openly, frankly discussing situations that befell them, situations requiring detailed analysis, preferring rather to brush them under the carpet, and so Albert and Jodie had quietly tolerated the accommodations provided for them. (Both Denzil and Xavier had been raised believing that a problem should to be dealt with alone: “You made your bed; you sleep in it.”)

The two weeks they spent with their sons and daughters-in-law had been a wonderful escape for them both, reviving their sunken spirits. Northern California and Central America both offered mild winters, exciting landscapes and fabulous ‘touristy’ opportunities. The days had flown by, Christmas passing all too quickly, followed by a week with Denzil and Nina in Honduras and then the arrival back in England coming around prematurely. During their fleeting visit to California however, they had managed to meet up with an old colleague of Albert’s from Ghana, Fritz Johansen and his wife for dinner at their beautiful home in the Berkley hills. An envious Albert had absent-mindedly left his camera in the Johansen’s living room having spent most of the evening gazing in awe around the fabulous home. The Johansen family had left Ghana two years before the Lewis’, moving to Berkley where Fritz had started his own architectural design company, which had become, over the years, extremely successful. Albert had never had the confidence to go it alone, preferring to let other people take the reins. Perhaps, Albert mused, Xavier had inherited this weakness from him, or maybe it wasn’t a weakness at all; maybe this lackadaisical attitude was merely a contentment, a satisfaction with the way things were, an absence of greed.

‘Foreign from birth’

‘There was a child brought up in a town
where the nights were filled with foreign sounds;
African drum beats and the echoes of chains
rattling around the feet of a people in pain.

There was a boy moved to a country where
he felt always so alienated from those there:
an outsider pushed into a world full of hate.
This boy missed so, the place where the world was on his plate.

He was foreign from birth, always different from those
around him; never quite fitted in I suppose.
Feeling lost and confused anywhere he moved to,
he tried so hard to find something he could do

right. There was a young man, found a love to care for,
to hold and to cherish like none he’d found before.
She brought his world into reality, showed him his worth.
He realized now that he’d always been foreign from birth.’

Albert put down on his desk the poem Xavier had sent along with seven others in a letter telling of how four of his poems about his memories of Ghana were going to be published soon. Albert had had a few poems published in a couple of anthologies and literary magazines (he also had a number of publications about the slave forts and castles in Ghana and the history of colonial architecture in West Africa to his name) and so was excited to see his son continuing on the Lewis’ artistic path. However, reading the poems Xavier had written, he saw the childhood Xavier had been afforded rise up through the words printed before him: years without constraints, the lack of an attentive fatherly hand where detailed in the poems, raising questions in Albert’s mind as to how well Xavier actually believed he had been brought up, how poor of a father Xavier felt he had.

Since moving to America, Xavier had found his poetic voice and had gradually been building up a collection of poems inspired by his childhood in Ghana. He was hoping to eventually have a book published, and it seemed that that dream was soon to come to fruition. A book of poems by his son! Upon returning from San Francisco, Albert had told his family this news, excitedly boasting about the positive development in Xavier’s life. (As it turned out, Xavier never got around to doing the required work and it was Denzil who became the first Lewis to have a book of poetry published – a book of Love poems in Spanish.)

Before marrying, Jodie’s father had written a great many poems, manuscripts that had been kept in the family after his death by Jodie’s only surviving relative, her great-aunt. Her grandfather (the archeologist) had had countless papers published detailing his discoveries and on his theories about ancient Egypt. Albert’s father was also a writer of poetry and prose, and so with this kind of artistic background, it was a prerequisite that Xavier would become a writer of some kind, published or not.

“I do hope he sends me a copy”, Albert’s mother said as she reached over, unsteadily placing her china tea-cup back on its saucer.
“He will. As soon as he receives the first copies I’m sure.” Albert knew his mother was strong. She had always been a formidable force throughout his life, protecting her three children during the war, sending them out of London into the country, away from the bombings (as many mother’s had done); a tall, powerful lady still to this day. “Your mum’s like Joan of Arc”, Albert’s school friends would joke. After Margaret Thatcher came to power, Albert saw in her a closer likeness with identical political views too!

Watching her now, on a two-day post-Christmas visit to his mother’s home in Suffolk, Albert could detect a frailty he hadn’t expected. Seven months before, on her eighty seventh birthday, she had had her usual vitality, entertaining her guests at a party arranged by her eldest daughter, with tales of her late husband’s eccentricities, stories both despondent and uplifting, and generally enjoying herself. Then, so sure-footed and alive, but now appearing to be progressively sinking faster and faster. She would have many years still ahead of her, but it pained Albert to see this decline. Just as he had felt, thirty-five years ago, fresh out of University, eager to make a success of himself and anxious to impress his family, he now felt the same pressures, the stress of having to achieve, but without the comfort of knowing that his education and knowledge would be able to secure him a job anywhere. At sixty, most educational institutions saw him as too close to retirement and as a result he had been offered no second interviews. He realized that time was running out; he didn’t want his mother to pass away remembering him as he was now, in this situation of financial insecurity.

Two days after returning to the waterlogged bungalow, Albert had telephoned Xavier and told him of the visit to Suffolk and the condition of his mother, subconsciously hoping that the news would spark in Xavier the same sense of urgency he now felt.

The holiday in San Francisco had certainly been invigorating. So many sights and places of interest had been crammed into the seven days: a trip to the picturesque towns of Carmel and Monterrey (the ‘surfing’ sea otters had been Jodie’s favorite part of the entire holiday); the breathtaking Muir woods (with its towering and majestic Great Redwood trees); the quaint English seaside town feel of Sausilito; Golden Gate bridge (of course); Coit tower; China Town (every sign in every shop window written in Chinese!); the University at Stanford; Fisherman’s Wharf (delicious clam chowder served in hollowed out sourdough bread bowls). After the heavy snows and icy winds of winter in Durham, the mild temperatures and sunshine had been heavenly; the sunshine, feeling the warmth penetrating one’s whole being, spreading inwards from the skin, along one’s veins, into the very marrow of one’s bones – much of the aching in her joints that Jodie perpetually suffered from was alleviated within a couple of days of arriving. Albert too had briefly experienced a feeling of emancipation as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

The holiday came five months after Xavier and Katie’s wedding. Now that they were married, Xavier could finally begin the process of filing for legal residency and employment authorization with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as Katie was an American citizen. This was a great relief for Albert and Jodie as their son had spent the last three and a half years evading the INS, working illegally and not being able to leave the country for fear of being turned away when he tried to re-enter, having over-stayed the three months permitted on a visa waiver.

In Key West and Kissimmee, Xavier had found work easily; many small business owners preferring to hire illegal immigrants, young Europeans and Australians mostly, who were more likely to be reliable and harder working than Americans of the same age, and also would work for less money. Xavier had worked in a variety of restaurants, clothing stores and flea markets that lined every major street in Key West and Kissimmee. Walking down Duval Street in Key West on any given day, one would hear a myriad of accents, a rainbow of dialects touting the finest seafood, cheap, refreshing cocktails and various wares.

Katie on the other hand had consistently worked in the airline industry. In Key West she worked as a ticket agent and baggage handler for a small commuter airline; in Kissimmee, for an even smaller, but much more interesting airline started by Richard Branson that flew World War II DC3s down to Fort Lauderdale and Key West, theme flights with the crew all dressed in vintage nineteen forties’ uniforms and music from that period piped through the overhead speakers. During a holiday Albert and Jodie had spent in Kissimmee, shortly after Xavier and Katie had moved there from Key West, Katie had managed to get them onboard (for free) for a day trip to Key West. Ghana Airways, in the sixties and seventies, had operated DC3s between Kumasi and Accra, wondrous trips that took one over the vast expanse of rainforest that covers most of central Ghana and then along the endless stretches of golden beaches of the coast.

During the two and a half hour flight to Key West listening to the powerful Pratt and Whitney turbo prop engines, watching at first the flat, dry farmland, and then after an hour or so, the wet, dark green of the Everglades National park passing slowly below the aircraft, Albert and Jodie had both been filled with feelings of euphoria; the awakening of precious memories. Jodie had clasped tightly Albert’s hand from the moment the thunderous roar from the engines began until the mighty beasts were silent once the aircraft had parked at the small terminal in Key West. Her face throughout the flight had been alive with excitement, turned to the window for almost the entire journey. The last fifty minutes of the flight was spent flying south west from the Everglades, the antique aircraft following the line of the Florida Keys, hundreds of small coral islands, green and white gems in the crystal clear, sometimes pale turquoise, sometimes emerald green waters of the Atlantic to the left and the slightly darker waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the right. The Keys were linked by one road that led out of Homestead, just south of Miami. From six thousand feet, the islands appeared to have grown around the road like crystals on a string from a ‘Grow your own crystals’ kit.

Katie had left Florida in February of the following year to begin Flight Attendant training with United Airlines. Richard Branson’s DC3 venture had failed and the company had folded a few months earlier and so Katie had looked to the major airlines for work. After training for seven weeks in Chicago, Katie chose San Francisco as her base and had relocated in April. She had always wished to live in California having been born in Santa Monica. Elizabeth Selleck had moved from Durham to California (as part of the ‘brain drain’ that happened throughout Europe during the sixties) where she met and married Katie’s father, a Spanish entrepreneur from Barcelona. The marriage lasted less than two years, and Elizabeth returned to Durham with her twin babies Katie and Alex.

Chapter 7: Christmas

Working for a major airline offered many perks, one being that Katie could give standby tickets (Companion passes) to family and friends that allowed them to travel at a greatly discounted fare, and so Albert and Jodie had flown from London to San Francisco and back in Connoisseur class on both flights for about the same price as a round-trip ticket from Newcastle to London. After the holiday, Albert had seen an advertisement in the Guardian newspaper for United Airline’s lower fares for Connoisseur class from London to New York. ‘New for 1996: £1,996 return fare.’ He had smiled as he read the advertisement. In the past, the Lewis family had always flown in economy class, squeezed into seats designed for people no taller than five foot ten inches, and so their recent journey, seated in reclining armchairs with foot-rests, enjoying the two four course meals with free wine and cocktails had been a wonderful treat for Albert and Jodie.

Three other international flights arrived in San Francisco around the same time as Albert and Jodie’s and so the customs area was a surging, turbulent flood of weary travelers glad to be free from the arduous confines of the transoceanic aircraft that they had spent the last eight to twelve hours fidgeting in and out of sleep trapped in.

The fuzzy customs officers, blank faced and bored, waved crowd after crowd past. The freed passengers now becoming anxious as they thought of their loved ones or friends hidden behind the thin plywood partition that was causing a massive bottleneck ahead. From their position in the ‘NOTHING TO DECLARE’ line, Albert watched the field of bobbing heads in front of him and Jodie, jostling and twitching like grains of wheat in a funnel. The various aromas that floated around the arrivals hall – hundreds of different fading perfumes and colognes; clothing worn for too long; the faint hint of Californian air – these scents, after the twelve hours onboard an airplane were intermingled and magnified in Albert’s nostrils to the point of being unpleasant. He sensed the urgency that his fellow travelers surrounding the two of them were beginning to feel as the bottleneck worsened, too many people herded through too hastily. Had they staggered the flight arrivals by only ten or fifteen minutes, Albert thought, much of this problem could have been avoided. It wasn’t long though before he and Jodie were just a few feet from the last partition and freedom.

Xavier was waiting amidst another mass of jostling heads facing the crowds exiting the customs hall. It was as though two great armies were locked in battle, the one Albert was part of armed with luggage trolleys piled high and wide with suitcases, boxes and bags that were impossible to control, veering off course and tipping their loads as they caught an innocent ankle here and there. Albert remembered only once or twice ever finding a trolley that had four working wheels. Looking at the ‘native’ army facing him, so many arms waving wildly, he was reminded of the first four lines of Auden’s poem, ‘As I walked out one evening’. Just as he had begun reciting the second stanza in his mind, Jodie tugged at his arm.
“There’s Xavier!” she said excitedly. She pointed her son out, reluctantly releasing the tight grip she’d had on Albert’s arm. As Xavier spotted his parents and waved, Jodie, suddenly and completely relieved, waved back.

Jodie had, in the last few years, her self-confidence diminishing as she grew older, become an apprehensive and reluctant traveler. Whilst she and Albert had been sitting at the departure gate in Heathrow, the two of them waiting anxiously for their names to be called (the one disadvantage of traveling on companion passes being that one would only be allocated a seat when all the other passengers had been checked in for the flight), whilst waiting, Jodie had resigned herself to the idea that they wouldn’t get on the flight to San Francisco. She’d dejectedly begun planning alternate holiday scenarios, sitting quietly with her arms folded across her lap, her eyes down, leaning gently against Albert.

Even after they’d been seated, much to their surprise, in the comfort of Connoisseur class Jodie still worried about their holiday plans. They had purchased tickets from San Francisco to San Pedro Sula to visit Denzil and Nina, departing seven days after their arrival in San Francisco, tickets that weren’t refundable. What if some passengers hadn’t checked in yet, she thought; we’d have to get off and we won’t see Xavier or Denzil. The mysteries of Northern California did not excite her as it should have and although she slept easily during the twelve-hour flight, she awoke with a tight knot in her stomach.

Now, seeing Xavier, tall, blonde and tanned, with a big smile and waving, Jodie felt a tingle flowing up and down her spine from her lower back to the base of her skull. The excitement overcame her and she surged forward through the annoying crowd dragging Albert’s arm, causing the trolley he was pushing to swerve sharply to the left. Reaching her son, Jodie dropped her shoulder bag and embraced him.

It was dark as they headed north from the airport. Albert sat in the front with Xavier, amazed at the amount of traffic there was on the highway. He had never seen a road with as many lanes as this – five in each direction! Xavier handled the rental car expertly, weaving from lane to lane as if he drove on this road every day. Albert had suggested to Xavier a couple of weeks before the holiday that renting a car would make things a lot easier and would probably be cheaper than using public transport and taxis to get around during their stay in Burlingame. In the back seat, Jodie opened her window slightly, closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, filling her lungs with the cool evening air of Northern California.

Albert watched as Xavier calmly negotiated the car through the late rush hour traffic, the orange glow of the overhead streetlight strobing hypnotically through the dim interior of the car. Almost four years earlier, Albert recalled, this scared young man, afraid to face his fears had run from the world he’d destroyed. Xavier and Katie had only known each other for three months before leaving the close-knit community of their families and friends in Durham at the invitation of one of Katie’s college friends whom, at the time, was living in Key West. Albert had genuinely hoped that Xavier would gain maturity and a sense of responsibility from the self-reliance he would, with so little preparation, be stepping into. Xavier definitely appeared to have found himself in America, but was still unprepared for the future. Albert’s greatest fear was that his son would wind up in middle age with the same uncertainties he now faced.

Exhausted and aching after the full day of traveling (Albert hadn’t slept at all during the flight, his mind buzzing with problems he would be facing upon their return to Durham) the apartment that Xavier and Katie were renting could have been a garage for all he cared as he and Jodie sat down together on the bright red sofa. Albert glanced around the room noticing that none of the lovely furniture Xavier and Katie had had in Kissimmee was here. Everything they had accumulated during their three and a half years in Florida had been sold, the cost of shipping it across the country being too great.

It was just as Albert was about to ask Xavier to help him carry the suitcases in from the car that Xavier broke the news. “Mum and Dad, Katie and I have booked a motel for you. We’ve already paid for it. We thought you’d be more comfortable in a real bed than on this sofa bed.”
At the mention of a motel, Albert’s mind conjured up various images of the wonderful places they’d stayed at in Ghana: exotic beach-front chalets, graceful colonial buildings in Accra and the impeccably restored Portuguese Catholic Mission in Asamakese.
“Most places were fully booked,” Xavier continued, clearly nervous about something. It was two days before Christmas and so it was entirely feasible that this statement was true, but as they drove through the adjoining town of San Mateo, passing many hotels and motels, each progressively paltrier the further they drove, Albert turned to look at Xavier.
“Wasn’t there anything closer?” he asked sullenly.
“There were two places about a mile back, but the rooms were awfully dirty and smelly. We’re here now. This is the place, up on the left.”

Xavier pulled into the forecourt of The Knight’s Inn Motel; it had none of the appeal that Albert’s images of the places in Ghana had. He asked himself how much a place like this could charge. The greatest cause of disappointment, Albert reminded himself, was having too high expectations of anyone or any situation. The room Xavier left them in was nice enough, Jodie reasoned, and so Albert relinquished the idea of finding some other accommodation the next day. Feeling the effects of the arduous journey, they hastily unpacked and were both promptly sound asleep.

The resting ended at five thirty in the morning as the window shook noisily, the first of the many airplanes headed for the East Coast. Every fifteen minutes or so, the motel room would vibrate as another plane flew directly over-head. Xavier arrived at nine to take his parents for breakfast. As soon as Albert had opened the door and greeted his son with a hug and a faint kiss on the cheek, Xavier noticed the almost complete absence of vivacity that he had expected to see in his father. He sat down in silence on the end of the unmade bed, puzzled as to what could have subdued his father’s enthusiasm. Albert rustled through the motel’s colorful Visitor’s Guide in one of the two uncomfortable-looking armchairs by the window; the heavy curtains drawn open slightly allowing bright sunlight to stream in to the gloominess of the room setting him in silhouette. While the two pensive men waited for Jodie to finish applying her make-up, another plane passed over the motel. “What time did that start?”
“About two hours ago. We were already up though,” Albert fibbed, glancing nervously at Jodie who was fortunately out of earshot; Albert knew that even if she’d been a little closer her tinnitus would have most likely blurred the conversation anyway.

The road into Burlingame, after passing the city limit sign, ‘Pop. 27,205’, Albert managed to read, was lined with majestic eucalyptus trees, their rough, gray bark shedding in places to reveal smooth, silken swirls of pale orange, brown, ash and cream. The fresh warm air was thick with their delectable perfume; Albert breathed in deeply and smiled.

The time passed quickly and before Albert had a chance to reflect on the sightseeing done since breakfast, they had met Katie at the airport and were back at the apartment. Jodie was particularly pleased to greet her new daughter-in-law and she and Katie sat and talked throughout the late lunch Xavier had prepared. Albert listened to their incessant conversation as he ate, watching the two ladies enjoying a good old gossip.

Since Elizabeth Selleck had returned from Kissimmee and delivered the wedding photographs and video, they had developed a close friendship, the three of them often enjoying Sunday lunches and walks together. Jodie and Elizabeth would share the latest news from their children, letters, postcards and phone-calls from America. Elizabeth had traveled across Canada before settling in California in the sixties leaving, as Albert and Jodie had done, the depression of England for a more fulfilling life. She had worked at University Hospital in San Francisco and lived in the infamous Haight-Ashbury district for a number of years. Before they left for their holiday, Elizabeth had given Albert and Jodie a list of places she felt were well worth visiting.

The sights and sounds (early morning airplanes aside), the smells and most importantly for Jodie, the warm weather that Albert and Jodie experienced during their brief but none-the-less exhilarating holiday in San Francisco combined with the joy of seeing their youngest son happily married, lifted the Lewis’ spirits and sent them onward to Honduras for further warming and spirit lifting preparing them for their rude homecoming.

Chapter 8: Analysis

Albert heard the car approaching. He looked at his watch: 3:20pm. She’s late, he thought. Joseph, her first pupil would be here in five or ten minutes. Albert hurriedly filled the kettle, turned it on and put two tea bags in the teapot. “How was school?” He kissed her as she came through the door.
“It was okay. The lane’s terrible though. What’s the plaster for?” She touched Albert’s forehead near the wound, concern obvious in her expression, and moved her head back slightly to wait for his explanation.
“It’s just a graze. I was walking by the river and a branch caught me”.
Jodie frowned doubtingly. “Mr. Wainwright’s going to start on Saturday. He said everything would be finished by Monday afternoon,” Albert said as he walked back into the kitchen to prepare the tea. Jodie followed him, still carrying her shoulder bag. She removed her coat, laid it over a chair and sat down at the kitchen table.
“Where did it happen?” she asked, still concerned about her husband’s injury.
“Near the army field. I didn’t see the branch, it was a path I hadn’t been along before.” He put down a cup of tea in front of Jodie. “Really, it’s nothing. Don’t worry.”
“Did you show Mr. Wainwright the closet?”
Albert looked down at his tea, his mind racing. “Yes. You’d better get ready darling, Joseph will be here any minute.” Albert watched his wife as she picked up her cup of tea and left the room. The doorbell rang as soon as she had disappeared. Albert heard Jodie welcoming her piano pupil in and sat down in the seat Jodie had just left and heaved a sigh of relief.

The scales began in the next room as Albert stood up and went to the phone on the wall by the larder and dialed Mr. Wainwright’s number. “Hello, this is Ted Wainwright.”
“Oh, hello Mr. Wainwright, it’s Albert Lewis. How are you?”
“Fine. How can I help you Mr. Lewis?”
“One question, did you include the closet and hallway in your estimate?”
“Yep. Two fifty, right?”
“That’s fine. And could you do the hallway first?” Albert still could not recall any part of Mr. Wainwright’s visit.
“That’s what we arranged, isn’t it. Then the room with the piano.” After hanging up the phone, Albert poured himself another cup of tea. The rain had started again, falling from the slate gray sky.

During supper, Albert had finally recounted his recurring dream to Jodie. She listened intently, ignoring her plate as Albert spoke. “Why didn’t you tell me about it before?” Jodie was watching Albert carefully.
“I don’t know. I suppose I hoped that it would stop happening.” Albert looked up at Jodie searchingly. She was quiet for a moment as she sipped her wine.
“Xavier doesn’t know where he’s going. Look at Denzil; he’s thirty-one and still trying to find out what’s best for him. I think that nowadays you’ve just got to take whatever you can.”

Denzil was Jodie’s son to her first husband, a Ghanaian she’d met whilst at University in London, a son Albert had accepted willingly as his own when he married Jodie. Even after Xavier had been born, Albert had shown neither one any more love or favoritism. Albert had paid for Denzil to attend one of the best private schools in England, Bembridge School on the Isle of Wight; a boarding school that Denzil began attending when he was eleven years old. Denzil had excelled at athletics during his six years at Bembridge, breaking school records in the one and two hundred meter sprints, the shot-putt, discus, and long jump. After leaving school without any academic qualifications, Denzil had spent five or six years searching for a goal. The Police Force had inspired him for a number of years, but he had willingly resigned and moved to Honduras with his new wife, hoping to find a more fulfilling existence.

Jodie left the table and went over to the sofa. “We can’t expect more from our children than what’s available to them. I mean, look at the CDs that Xavier has made. Just because he’s not an architect, you can’t worry for him. I know you think that he believes that music will be his future. There’s nothing wrong with that. And what about his poems?”
Albert pushed his plate away and sat back, folding his arms. “I don’t know why I keep having this dream. I’m aware of what Xavier has done, but…” He sighed, turning his head to look at Jodie. “I don’t think he’s responsible enough for marriage. He’s got Katie to think about now.”
“He’s nearly twenty-eight Albert! He’s old enough to know what he’s doing and what needs to be done.”

Jodie lit up a Gauloise and settled into the sofa. Albert saw the raised vein on her neck. The smoke from the cigarette rose vertically for three or four feet in an almost perfectly straight line, dissipating just below the ceiling creating the illusion that the cigarette was being suspended from the ceiling by a fine silk thread. “He just needs to find the right direction in which to go. He’s very intelligent. Once he applies himself he’ll be able to do anything, and do it well.” Frowning, Jodie tapped the ash from the tip of the French cigarette and looked over at Albert, still seated at the dining table. “He’s kept himself out of trouble. You know how fast he was slipping before he left.” Jodie remembered vividly how Xavier’s increasingly delinquent behavior throughout the year before he met Katie had affected Albert, and hoped that what she’d just said wouldn’t instigate another heated discussion about Xavier’s “fall from grace”, as Albert had once put it, but rather instill in her husband’s mind some optimism for their son’s future.
“I suppose you’re right. In that respect he’s done well.” Albert watched as Jodie inhaled and then, her lips pouting, blew a puff of smoke upwards. He stood up and went into the kitchen.

A tingle swept across the surface of Albert’s skin as he recalled the first time he’d seen Jodie. He’d been waiting in the lobby of the Continental Hotel in Accra for Bob Barker, a visiting lecturer from University College in London, the college Albert had studied at. Jodie, her long golden blonde hair swept forward over her shoulder, had been sitting in one of the leather armchairs opposite him, with a bottle of Club beer on the low wicker table that separated them, smoking a Gauloise cigarette and reading a book by the local author R.E. Obeng. The scene could have been a photograph in a fashion magazine, Albert remembered thinking.

Having lived as a bachelor in Accra for the past five years, Albert had always kept an eye out for female companions. He had introduced himself to Jodie and the two of them talked about London and teaching in Africa until Bob Barker appeared. Departing, Albert had turned and seen Jodie, her lips pouting as though blowing a kiss, exhale a puff of smoke into the cool air of the hotel’s lobby; they had exchanged fleeting smiles, and then he and the visiting lecturer were out in the sweltering heat of the tropics and off to the University of Legon.

“Remember how he withdrew after we moved to Durham?” Jodie remarked as Albert re-entered the room. “I think he must have hated us for taking him away from Ghana.” Jodie was speaking softly, her eyes squinting and with a distance in them that Albert hadn’t seen before. “He spent what, five or six years in his own world,” she continued.
“That was adolescence surely! Every child goes through a period like that.”
Albert brought over two mugs of milky coffee and handed one to Jodie. “They do, but they still make friends at school. Xavier pulled himself away completely.”
“He was bullied. Withdrawing was purely a reaction to that” Albert tried to reason.
“No, I think it was more serious than that. Even once he started those bodybuilding competitions, he was more confident, but he still didn’t integrate.” This was true, Albert remembered. He pictured Xavier showing off to his family after Sunday lunches, going through the posing routines he used on stage at the regional bodybuilding contests, his young, bright blue eyes alight with pride and self-confidence.

“So you think us moving to England angered Xavier to such a great extent that he hated us for it?” Albert was unsettled by this possibility.
“I’m sure it was upsetting for him, being taken away from the carefree life he had in Ghana, and at that age, he wouldn’t have understood fully why. He could well have blamed us for it.”
“But what was wrong with the life he had here?” Albert swirled the coffee around in the mug to stop the milk from coagulating.
“He never has viewed England as his home. You saw the Ghana flag in the apartment in Burlingame. He was brought up with Ghanaian and Lebanese and Scandinavian children; I’m sure he couldn’t relate to the children here, especially those here in Durham. You’re forgetting how closed-minded some people are here.” Jodie was on the defensive again.
“No I’m not!” Albert retorted. “I don’t see how our life was any worse than it was in Ghana towards the end.”
“That’s just it: you don’t see how ‘our life’ was any worse. You have to look at it from Xavier’s point of view!” With this, Jodie stood up, her knees cracking as she straightened, and walked out of the room. Albert’s eyes followed her for a second or two and then he looked down at his mug of coffee and inhaled deeply. The sweet aroma of French tobacco lingered in the air. He reached for the mug, Jodie’s last words playing over in his mind. He had never thought of himself as being, to any degree, self-centered. On the contrary, he saw himself as having lived his life helping others, always giving more than he ever received, unbegrudgingly and willingly. How could Jodie accuse him of not considering Xavier’s feelings? He now felt more confused than before.

Suddenly, Jodie appeared in the doorway to the kitchen and walked over to him. She clasped Albert’s hands in hers. “I’m sorry darling. We didn’t do anything wrong in the way we raised Xavier; he’s just spoilt. I mean, who wouldn’t be, having a childhood like that? Leaving Ghana was necessary. He can see that now, I’m sure. Let’s wash up and go off to bed.” Jodie kissed him and began clearing the table.

Chapter 9: Stolen

The sky was wonderfully clear. Albert gazed at the new colors outside as he ate his breakfast. He knew from past experience that the fine weather wouldn’t last more than a day or two. “How do you fancy a picnic lunch dear?”
Jodie, about to eat a spoonful of cereal, paused for a moment as she turned to look at Albert. “I’m sure it’s still very cold out there and the forecast said it might rain later on.”
“Well, we could make a few sandwiches and if it does then we’ll have them indoors. But I think it’s going to be fine all day. What do you say?”
“Where were you thinking of going to?”
“Funnily enough, by the trees where I bumped my head. You get a lovely view of the countryside and the cathedral from up there.” Albert could still feel a dull pain in his forehead. He ignored it and the morning continued, the fair weather fighting the bleak winter.

They sat away from the shade of the oak trees, the weak January sun warming their scalps enough to feel comfortable. “Is this the place?” Jodie had inquired obviously unimpressed after reaching the top of the steep bank. Albert humbly gazed out across the countryside, absorbing the tranquility as he ate a ham and cheese sandwich. The ground, through the thin raffia mat was cold, but bearable. After forty minutes or so with little conversation, Jodie began tidying up the picnic things. Some snowdrops were growing close to where they were sitting. Albert reached over to pick one and tenderly handed it to his wife. “Things are going to be fine,” he said as he leaned across and kissed Jodie’s cheek. They cleared up the remnants of the picnic lunch and set off for home, hand in hand along the river walk, the sun, high in the clear blue sky, warming the backs of their heads and shoulders. “We’d better start preparing the house for Mr. Wainwright”, Albert said as they neared the bungalow. “He’ll be here tomorrow morning.”
“What time did he say he start?”
“Well, I’m not sure exactly what time he said he’d be here, but we’d better have everything ready first thing so that he can keep to his schedule.”

The rain didn’t start until after Jodie’s first pupil had arrived. Albert sat in the kitchen watching the raindrops combine with one another and run down the window, listening to the scales repeated over and over in the next room. “Everything IS going to be fine!” he stated emphatically to himself as he looked at the still erect snowdrop Jodie had placed in a glass on the kitchen table. Albert thought about lighting a fire but then remembered that the cover had been blown off the woodpile a couple of nights ago. Instead, he set about preparing supper.

“Oh God, No!” The words slid from Albert’s lips like molten lead, his breath steaming in the cold Sunday morning air. He started at the space in which, an hour and a half earlier, he’d carefully reversed the car into. His mouth gaped like a child’s at the circus.
“Have you forgotten where you parked it Albert?” Tom Stoddart chuckled as he and his wife crossed the road nearby.
“I think it’s been stolen,” Albert replied, knowing he wasn’t that senile yet.
The Stoddarts watched as Albert walked up and down the street opposite the church.
“You should call the Police right away Albert, it may just have happened. Come on, we’ll find a phone box and then I’ll run you home.”
“Thanks Tom.” Albert was still trying to comprehend the situation. “What would anyone want with an old car like that?”
“The old ones are probably easier to get into,” Tom suggested.

The car was found later that day in a rundown housing estate on the north side of Newcastle. It was a write-off: all the windows had been smashed, the dashboard had been ripped apart and parts had been stripped off the engine. Joyriding was a major problem at that time in the North of England, the Police seemingly at a loss as to how to control it.
“What are we going to do now” Jodie asked rhetorically after the Police had called with the news. “We can’t walk into town everyday with the weather the way it’s been.”
“We’ll manage darling,” Albert said as he hugged his distraught wife. ‘Why us Lord?’ Albert prayed as he held her. He could feel Jodie shaking and for a brief moment, thought that she was laughing. He bit his lower lip to stop himself from showing his own pain.

Lunch had been a horribly somber affair, and now, as he made a pot of tea, Albert felt another weight settling down on his shoulders. He stood by the sink, his hands grasping the countertop and stared vacantly out through the window. The owner of the neighboring farm had moved a hundred or so sheep that day into the field opposite the bungalow. The lazy creatures were mostly sitting, bored and cold, but there were a few standing grazing or staring blankly ahead. “Aren’t they funny?” Jodie said from behind, startling Albert. He turned to face her.
“What darling?”
“The sheep. They’re probably wondering why they’ve been moved here. They look like they’re lost.” Jodie put her arms around her husband and pulled herself close. “What time is will it be in San Francisco? Let’s call Xavier.” Jodie rested her chin on Albert’s shoulder.

Xavier’s light heart and the news that his application for permanent residency had been conditionally approved made both Albert and Jodie feel a lot happier. The precariousness of Xavier’s situation over the years had been of great concern to Albert especially; the embarrassment of having his son deported from America as an illegal alien would have been awful. He often thought back to the times he’d had to word his answers carefully as family and friends questioned him about Xavier’s life in Durham, at first having to make sure they hadn’t heard any stories from other sources. A local newspaper had once reported, in a quarter page article, the details of one of Xavier’s court appearances, with a large photograph, ironically, of Xavier and another model advertising some jewelry store on the opposite page.

Chapter 10: Reflection

Xavier’s birth was a wonderful celebration of life for Albert, then in his mid-thirties. He called his parents in England within a couple of hours to break the good news. He and Jodie hadn’t decided on a name for the new baby, and so as it was Palm Sunday, Albert’s two sisters, at home with their parents for the Easter Holiday, had named him Hosannah, a name they and Albert’s mother used until they finally met the infant eight months later when Albert, Jodie and Denzil traveled to England for Christmas. At home, he was called Kwesi X – Kwesi being the Ashanti name given to Sunday born males.

Albert’s parents, on hearing of Jodie’s pregnancy and not trusting the quality of any medical facilities outside of England, suggested to their son that the baby should be born in England. Albert reassured them that everything would be fine and that an Irish doctor would be taking care of Jodie during her pregnancy and delivering the baby.

Denzil took to Xavier immediately, enjoying having a baby brother to show off to. Never rough, he played with Xavier for hours on end, attempting to pass on to the infant all the wisdom he had accumulated in his four years. Denzil went through sheets and sheets of drawing paper showing off his artistic and calligraphic skills to baby Xavier who would sit quietly watching and listening intently as his older brother attempted to educate him. The two nannies that looked after the Lewis children also absolutely adored the chubby, pink infant with white hair. They would take turns in parading him around the village, strapped, in the local fashion, to their backs with bright, colorful hand-woven kenti cloth.

Xavier was fortunate too for having Baby Kofi to grow up with. Born three weeks after Xavier, Baby Kofi was the forth child to the Lewis’ resident housekeeper Kofi Amamu and his wife. Kofi, a tall, handsome, well-built man, lived with his family in a small and very basic house at the back of the Lewis’ property. Every member of staff at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi was provided with accommodations; large colonial style buildings with large gardens and servants' quarters. The ‘servants’ (as the expatriates who had been in Ghana since before Independence called them), usually recommended to the newly arrived expatriates by fellow staff members, were paid reasonably well (by local standards) and were responsible for, among other things, house cleaning, cooking, washing the dishes, laundry and ironing, tending the garden – which in the Lewis’ case contained a wonderful array of fruit bearing plants: mango; orange; grapefruit; paw-paw; sour-sop; avocado pear; pineapple; banana; fruit that Kofi would keep the Lewis (and his own) family pleasured with. During its fruiting season, the towering mango tree, with its great shade canopy, was ransacked daily by the children who, for hours after would be left with their hands stained orange, bright orange rings around their lips and mango fur stuck in between their front teeth. In the fenced yard surrounding his house, Kofi grew a number of fruits and vegetables and kept a variety of ‘pets’. There were, at any given time, half a dozen hens, a cockerel, three or four guinea fowl and a couple of goats. With the help of his family, he maintained his small ‘farm’ and was pretty much self-sufficient. The chickens were usually escapees from the poultry farm that one of the Lewis’ neighbors, a colleague of Albert’s at UST, operated in his back garden.

This poultry farm conveniently provided many a fine Sunday lunch for the Lewis’. Kofi would pick out a succulent looking chicken, carry it home by its wings, and with all the children looking on in awe, slit the poor thing’s throat, drain the blood into a small hole he’d dug in the ground and then finally decapitate the desperately struggling creature. Kofi would then let go of the headless bird and the children would chase after it excitedly as it ran, helter skelter around the garden for a minute or so before collapsing in the grass. Drawn outside by the cacophony raised by the alarmed animals in Kofi’s yard and the children whooping wildly, Albert and Jodie would stand and watch in amusement, the children darting to and fro behind the bird.

The Lewis’ house, in the small village of Nhyaesu, (pronounced “Nin-cha-su”), just outside Kumasi was like many others around it. The University owned many properties in the village in which it housed its (mostly foreign) professors. The Lewis’ neighbors were from all over the world: Canada; The Lebanon; Syria; Holland; Germany; America; Iran; Nigeria: most of them with children who attended the nearby Ridge school. Dinner parties, very common amongst the expatriate community in Nhyaesu, were fabulous affairs: the cultural diversity; the various ethnic and European cuisines that the Lewis family was exposed to made for an extremely interesting life, especially for the Lewis boys as they grew up. The neighborhood was a safe, comfortable and friendly place to live. Even the residents of the shantytown at the end of the street that the Lewis’ lived on seemed to be content living their impoverished lives, and coexisted peacefully in a strange kind of equilibrium with their affluent foreign neighbors.

The families from the shantytown – living in tiny huts made from mud, wood or sheets of rusted corrugated iron; the street edged by concrete gutters that were lined with a filthy white scum, as thick and white as the skin on boiled milk, the fluids beneath heated and churned by the afternoon sun, giving off a piercing, acrid smell that on steamy, breezeless days could be almost suffocating – the families who lived in this squalor survived by growing fruits and vegetables on carefully tended plots of earth behind their huts. What they didn’t use for their own families, they would either sell by the roadside or at the huge market in Kumasi or they would (as was the most lucrative method), by befriending the expatriates’ housekeepers and thus aided by these ‘insiders’ manage to sell a fair amount of fresh produce to the foreign residents of Nhyaesu on a weekly basis. Some of the children from the shantytown, not subject to school schedules would become master craftsmen. Sometimes wooden statues, metal sculptures, even model cars made from old tin cans and flip flop rubber would be offered by these ‘door-to-door’ sales people. Both Denzil and Xavier were proud owners of incredibly detailed model vehicles: a Mercedes Benz; a fire engine with movable ladder; a low-loader truck, each one very skillfully made. The boys pulled around these toys, usually over a foot in length, wherever they went, the vehicles holding up surprisingly well for months until they fell eventually apart and had to be replaced.

All in all, life in Ghana for Albert and his family had been idyllic by Western standards, even with the occasional food and petrol shortages: holidays spent in Elmina (a small town on the coast); in Amadzofe (a village in the mountains, just above the cloud line); trips abroad every year; truly the Lewis’ had lived the good life. The overly-competitive and greedy nature of Western society, the rat race that both Albert and Jodie remembered from England had been gladly forgotten and, after seventeen years in Ghana, reluctantly re-entered into.

Chapter 11: Our children, our future

So much time had passed and so much had been left unsaid. All these months, years that had passed had left Xavier with so many bitter memories, most of which he hoped would be forgotten all too soon, or at least entombed deep out of reach in his subconscious.

A child, an innocent, unknowing, all learning creature takes over one’s life and one must rapidly adjust to accommodate this new being into daily existence.

Xavier, weary from a twelve hour shift at the restaurant, holding his son carefully in his arms, gazed at the helpless being; stared deep into Oliver’s bright blue eyes and began to cry. Tears formed quickly and ran down Xavier’s cheeks dropping onto Oliver’s exposed calf; the infant kicked out with both of his chubby pink legs and muttered some kind of protest. Katie called from the bedroom for Xavier to bring Oliver to her. “He’s hungry. Come on, bring him here Xav!”

It was funny, Xavier thought, how these desolate hours, once reserved for love-making or fridge-raiding, were now allocated entirely for baby care: feeding and changing and calming and changing again! Xavier carried Oliver to his mother and after getting himself a drink from the kitchen, headed out onto the balcony. A gentle, warm breeze wafted through Xavier’s recently bleached hair as he stepped out into the refreshing, eucalyptus perfume laden air of this Northern Californian summer night.

Lighting a cigarette, the first in six or seven months, Xavier closed his eyes and drew the smoke into his lungs. It had been a good stretch, he thought, longer than he had expected. Katie had quit the day the pregnancy was confirmed: the day the party ended. The smoke struck his lungs like the hot, putrid smoke from a funeral pyre would burn the lungs of a family in mourning. It was as much as he could do to stop himself from vomiting, swallowing hard, over and over, and trying to recall happy memories. Xavier tipped his glass of Guinness to his lips and drank. He recalled the first time he’d experienced this condition; twenty-one years old, living away from home for the first time, bearing the scars of adolescent depression on his forearm like a concentration camp prisoner branded with an identification number. Glancing briefly at his forearm, Xavier saw himself in the ventilation shaft that he had clambered into in a drunken stupor, pulling himself deep into the blackness after somehow replacing the grate. Before the peaceful humming of the fans buried in the basement of St. Mary’s College had worked their calming magic on Xavier, he had sliced open his left forearm, carving an ‘X’ over and over again with the razor-sharp blade of the pen-knife his father had given him one Christmas. He had then licked gently at the wound as a stray dog would pathetically lick an open sore.

In the months that followed, Xavier had fallen further and further into a soul-destroying depression, a descent that was accelerated by his move to Sheffield to work as a recording studio engineer, leaving behind his parents and close-knit group of friends, (friends who unknowingly, through their unconditional love and companionship, had kept Xavier above the line of dangerous self destruction).

Moving in with a friend that owned a top floor apartment near the city center – a friend who, as it turned out, became a very bad influence on him – Xavier had begun spending the majority of evenings writing somber poetry, composing dark, depressing music and drinking more and more as the weeks passed. On his days off from work at the recording studio, his room-mate would send him out shopping, usually telling him to go to Manchester or Liverpool, with a friend’s credit card and a list of things he wanted: clothes, CDs, small electronics. Upon returning, laden with hundreds of pounds worth of stuff, his room-mate would call the owner of the credit card who would then call in his card as lost thus avoiding any charges that Xavier had run up that day; sometimes he would be in possession of a credit card for a few days while the owner was away on a verifiable trip. In the evenings Xavier would sit on the window ledge high above the bright lights of the city gazing out, an emptiness in his eyes as though in a deep trance. As the months passed and the voices screaming “Suicide!” grew clearer, Xavier had fled home leaving behind the horrors of loneliness and the threat of jail: during one ‘shopping trip’ to London, at Euston Station attempting to buy some rail passes to use on future pillages, Xavier had been busted.
“Mr. Numwar, what does the P stand for?” The clerk behind the counter, staring at him intently through the thick glass partition, had the phone pressed to his right ear, and was holding the credit card in his left hand. Xavier was sweating, his mind racing; “turn and run!” it told him, “just turn and fucking run!” There was no way in hell that the man would be able to get out of the ticket office fast enough but it was still too risky.
Xavier had met the owner of this particular credit card only briefly in a pub. As his name suggested, he was indeed Indian.
“Parmie”, Xavier blurted, desperately trying to recall his name.
The clerk spoke into the phone; his cockney accent and his crisp, pressed blue shirt were annoying Xavier. “This’ll only take a minute,” he said, looking at a very sweaty, fidgety, Caucasian-looking Mr. Numwar.
“I’m just going to make a phone call. I’ll be right back,” Xavier said, as calm as a cucumber. Without waiting for the clerk to respond, Xavier turned and walked insouciantly to the block of pay phones in the center of the terminal. As soon as he was inside the hall of phones that stood in the center of the railway terminal and hidden from the clerk’s view, Xavier pushed through the irritating hoards of people who were standing around like penguins in a zoo to the opening on the far side and broke into a run. He ran through the streets of London until he could run no more.

Upon his return to Durham, Albert and Jodie had immediately seen the change in Xavier and had offered him all the love and support they could, but ultimately had avoided bringing up the subject of depression during conversations with their son, conversations that Xavier would vehemently cut short in his stubbornness and state of denial if he felt pressured in any way.

The Guinness tasted good, and so with his stomach now settled, Xavier quickly emptied his glass and got himself another from the fridge; he knew that Katie would be calling him to bed as soon as Oliver had fallen back off to sleep. He knew also that he wouldn’t be able to get to sleep unless he was drunk: he was worried about the reaction his parents were going to have when they read the letter and poem that he had just sent off.

A few mornings later, with the phone resting on his ear, his brother’s deep, calming voice on the line soothing his pounding head after he had been rudely awakened by the loud ringing, Xavier cracked open his eyes and looked over at the fuzzy, red numbers glowing on the alarm clock: ‘8:32’.
“Sorry to wake you bro’, but I needed to talk to you.” It was strange to hear that his older, wiser brother needed to talk to him.
“What’s up Denzil?”
“Nina is leaving me.”
Xavier reached for the glass of water on the bedside table and took a drink.
“She’s taking Rebecca and going back to Birmingham. She has a job lined up and wants a divorce.” Xavier could hear his brother’s voice wavering. “Has she called you?”
Xavier bit his bottom lip. “No. Why is she leaving you?”
“She says she can’t take any more shit from me. She reckons some woman called her and told her I was shagging her. Nina believed her and called me just now.”
“Who’s the woman?”
“I don’t know bro’. Someone’s trying to mess up my life.” Xavier thought back to when his brother had explained to him that husbands have certain rights that their wives have to accept and respect. That’s the way it was in Central America. Women had created the institution of marriage in an attempt to corral men into submission.
“You don’t know who this woman is?” Xavier asked again, his brain still clouded by the beer from the previous night.
“I have no idea! Nina’s leaving for her parents today and then flying to England next week sometime.” Denzil sounded angry.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know bro’.” There was a long silence. “I’m going to phone mum and dad now. I love you bro’. Bye.”

Xavier placed the phone back in its cradle and rolled onto his back. He shrugged his shoulders as Katie leant over to kiss his cheek. “What’s going on sweetie?”
“Nothing!” Xavier answered angrily. He stumbled into the bathroom and splashed his face with cool, refreshing water.
“What’s wrong Xavier?” Katie called from the bedroom intuitively. Xavier was silent for a while as he composed his reply.
“I don’t love you any more.” He swallowed hard and looked up at his reflection in the mirror. His puffy, bloodshot eyes stared vehemently back at him disappointed with the wreck they saw before them. Katie was beside him in a second, her eyes brimming with tears. “What,” she blazed, tugging at Xavier’s left arm?
“I’m sorry. I think that you’re making me unhappy. It’s like you’re ruining my life!” Xavier gripped the edge of the sink and shut his eyes tight, causing a stream of tears to run down his cheeks. In the empty silence, he thought he could hear his blood coursing through his veins. The slap rang loudly and painfully in Xavier’s head. His right cheek began throbbing immediately. “Fuck you!” yelled Katie as she fled from the brightness of the bathroom.
Xavier clenched his fists and in one movement, spun around and punched the wall behind him as hard as he could. With his heart and fist screaming, he grabbed the closest thing he could find, a bottle of Johnson’s baby powder, and threw it into the bedroom. The top of the plastic container exploded off with a dull “pop!” as the bottle hit the wall at the far side of the bed, showering the bedside table and chest of drawers with its fine white contents.

Chapter 12: Life goes on

Albert sipped his coffee and looked over at Jodie.
“We can’t blame ourselves.” He bit into the imported After Eight mint chocolate wafer. Jodie put down her mug of coffee and stared for a moment at the sugar bowl sitting on a plate in the middle of the dining table.
“If there’s pain in our family, it’s not to due to us with-holding of love from our sons,” she said as she reached for an After Eight. “Nothing that we did was wrong. I don’t have an answer to all this.”
Albert turned to look out of the window. The lights on the mountainside glowed softly like distant stars. Without saying a word, he got up from his chair and left the room.

Sitting down at his desk in the study, Albert leafed through the recent mail; he found the last letter that Xavier had sent and pulled out the poem he’d sent along with a letter containing the latest news.

‘My Son’

‘Sometimes, things don’t seem as good as they should be.
Life takes a turn, so suddenly you’re thrown off course.
Your arm screams in pain as you slice the flesh
with the knife that your father bought.

It’s a very different day. It’s a thought provoking,
sobriety induced time that sucks you into self-analysis.
The scars on your arm say so much about your pain
and yet you pull them away from a loved ones’ kiss.

Heart sunken in confusion, away from friends, the end
seems so close to you. Could you ever make amends?
Or would that send you back to the past?
Cast your vote, there’s no cost.

Lost in the fog of drunkenness, scraping violently for freedom,
inflicting bleeding wounds in your own private Armageddon.
Is this my life away from you, my son?
So young. And you, my wife…gone.

Loneliness consumes my being, drags me into a darkness
I despise. There’s no compromise. Is the future with you
and my son? Is loving you all that I need? Spread your wings
and make for the seas. I would follow. Could this be true?’

The words bit hard into Albert’s heart. Jodie appeared in the doorway.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to write to Xavier and say that I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” Jodie put her hands on Albert’s tense shoulders.
Albert folded the sheet of paper and slipped it back in the envelope along with Xavier’s letter. “I feel like he needs help.”
“I think you’re forgetting that he’s an adult now. He can make his own decisions, good or bad. If he has decided that he has to leave Katie, then we have to respect that decision. All we can do is give him our love and support.” Jodie stroked her husband’s soft, dark hair and then turned to walk away.
“We’re going to lose our grandchildren! We’ll never see Oliver and Rebecca again. You think that’s okay?” Albert got up suddenly and pushed past Jodie. A moment later, she heard the back door slam shut loudly.

Sitting on the dusty, cracked stone floor of the chapel in the ruined Bellapais abbey, Albert raised his hands to his face and wiped the tears from his eyes. Pain is strange when it comes from this deep within your soul, he thought; it rips open your heart revealing hidden memories, making you stop and take stock of your life. “Why Lord? Why?” Albert sobbed into his hands. The musty odor inside the crumbling thirteenth century chapel was oddly comforting and Albert suddenly remembered the storage room below his study at the house in Nhyaesu: Xavier, Denzil and their friends would scamper around in this unused, doorless room singing and shouting at the tops of their voices, playing games like ‘Ring-a-ring-a-roses’, or simply enjoying the fabulous acoustics of the room. Albert would sit back in his chair in the study above and listen to the muted echoing of the young, developing voices that reverberated through the walls. “We did nothing wrong,” he said to himself as he straightened up and dried his eyes with his handkerchief. The faded painting of St. Hilarion sporting a golden halo and carrying a crystal encrusted scepter, holding up against the salty coastal winds surprisingly well, smiled down from the wall opposite. Albert breathed in deeply, the air thick with memories, and carefully stood up.

Jodie was washing the dishes from dinner when Albert reached the house they were renting a little way outside of Girne (formally known as Kyrenia), a large town on the coast in Northern Cyprus. He heard her humming a tune he recognized as one of Xavier’s compositions. Quietly walking into the kitchen, Albert stood and watched Jodie for a minute before sneaking up behind her. She gasped as he put his arms around her waist. He leant forward and kissed the back of her head. Through the window above the sink, he could see Daisy on the perimeter wall looking in at the two of them. Jodie put down the saucepan she’d been scrubbing, wiped her hands briefly on the tea towel lying on the counter and turned around. She embraced Albert, squeezing him tightly. A smile crossed his face as he felt a beautiful warmth settle over him.

Albert and Jodie had been on the island for almost a year: Albert had been offered the post of Director of the Architecture Department at the International University of Lefke which had recently gone through a quite substantial enlargement (the Turkish Government believing that by investing money in the University – thereby attracting more professors and students from overseas – the United Nations would look more favorably on the resident Turks; the ultimate goal was to have the northern side incorporated into the UN) Life was comfortable for Albert and Jodie; Jodie had built up a small but growing group of piano students, Albert was well respected in his position; and putting the ethnic tensions aside, (the Greek Cypriots would gladly have the Turks thanklessly booted off the island) the Lewis’ enriched their lives with the fabulous Mediterranean cuisines, the wonderful Cypriot music and weekend trips to destinations steeped in the great history that Cyprus has: the monasteries of St. Barnabas and St. Hilarion; the ancient towns of Famagusta and Nikosia; the ruins of numerous settlements (from the middle-ages) along the Karpas peninsular.

Xavier, ignoring the talcum powder that lay like volcanic ash over the furniture by the wall, fell onto the canopy bed. As he landed on the mattress, the rush of air blew some of the powder up off the bedside table and Xavier watched, hypnotized, as the fine white powder swirled around and floated gently back down. He could hear Katie in the living room talking to Oliver; her voice was trembling.
“This jacket will keep you warm Boody. We’ll have breakfast at Molly’s. You like it there. They have that big fish tank, remember?”
Oliver was babbling in his usual fashion. Xavier pulled the pillow around his ears as more tears welled up in his eyes. After hearing the front door closing, he rolled into the center of the queen size bed and began crying softly into the pillow.

Xavier was still lying on the bed when Katie and Oliver returned. He watched as Katie gently laid the sleeping baby on the bed, placing a pillow on either side of him to keep him from rolling off the bed or into Xavier’s space. She leant over and kissed the tip of her husband’s nose.
“I love you Sweetie” she whispered. Xavier, on occasion, could forget just how beautiful Katie was: a petite young lady with wavy dark-blonde hair, almost turquoise blue-green eyes, a perfect figure that looked so alluring in a bikini and a polite and considerate nature that had been commented on by many people. Her devotion to Xavier was impenetrable and unlike anything he’d encountered before in his relationships. He followed Katie with his eyes as she walked around the bed. She carefully lay down on the bed and embraced him. Oliver rolled over, his perfectly formed head coming to rest against Xavier’s left hand. Xavier stroked his son’s fine golden ringlets with his index finger. He turned to look at Katie; tears rolled down his cheeks and they kissed. Lovemaking as a substitute for discussion had always been an easy way out of an emotionally charged situation for Xavier and so with his son sleeping soundly next to him, Xavier mutely fell in love with his wife once again.

“I’ll put in for a transfer to Miami. You can look after Oliver until you find a job and then I’ll bid my schedule around yours.” Katie was lying on the bed nursing Oliver as Xavier came out of the bathroom. He finished drying himself off and began dressing for work. “I know we’ll be happier back in Florida. It’s too expensive for us here,” she continued. Oliver pulled off her nipple and looked at his father.
“Hey Boody! Pappy’s going to work now. Are you going to be good for mammy?” Oliver mumbled something and then went back to his lunch. Xavier checked his tie in the bathroom mirror. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Maybe that’s the best thing to do but…” He turned off the bathroom light, “I’ll never match this salary there. And what’ll we do with all our stuff? We’re not going to sell it all and start over again. We’ve done that once already!”

As he sat in the luxurious cabin of the perfectly maintained cabin of the nineteen sixty-nine Cadillac Coupe Deville that he had persuaded Katie to invest some money in, waiting for it’s enormous (four hundred and seventy cubic inches!) engine to warm up, Xavier felt a smile forming. Pressing the accelerator for a second, he checked for the puff of smoke in the rear-view mirror. “Power!” he said to himself as he slowly reversed the seventeen feet long American engineering masterpiece out of the parking space. He loved this car: he loved cleaning and polishing it: he loved gazing at its long, sleek, golden lines; it’s shining chrome bumpers: he loved driving this car, feeling its limitless power and watching all the heads turn as he cruised by. This car – the same age as Katie – had been the most reliable of any of the automobiles the Lewis family had ever owned, including the Peugeots that Albert had always been a fan of. Katie, who disliked the Cadillac because of its ridiculous length and obscene petrol consumption, had bought herself a Jeep Wrangler soon after her pregnancy had been confirmed, citing the need for a ‘small run-around’ car for herself. As Xavier pulled into the parking lot in front of the Sahara restaurant, he noticed that his smile had disappeared. Acknowledging the (mostly Mexican) cooks as he walked past the open-style kitchen, he felt the tears welling up again. He clumsily unlocked the door to the tiny manager’s office and quickly slipped inside. Locking the door, he sat down and covered his face with his hands.

“Won’t she be worried if you don’t call?” John asked as he walked over to the bar with their empty glasses.
“I don’t want to wake Oliver up. I’ll call in the morning. She’ll understand. Anyway, I don’t have to…” the phone interrupted Xavier. “If that’s her, tell her I’m showing the cleaners around and I’ll be home in a little bit.”
A divorcee and a father, John could see the void in Xavier’s heart. He reluctantly lied to his colleague’s wife and hung up the phone at the bar.
“She won’t be happy Xav. I think you should go home soon.”
“Just pour the bloody beer John!” Xavier hated people offering their opinions to him about his marriage. Nobody knew how it really was: he had it pretty tough; Katie was too demanding and was starting to wear his patience thin. Frequent affirmations like these exacerbated the problem; John recognized this stage clearly.
“I’m leaving after this beer Xav” he announced as he returned from the bar with two pints of Bass.
“I’ll have one more just to kill a little more time; Katie will be asleep by then.” Xavier was a true Aires and as stubborn as they came.

Opening the front door, Xavier saw Katie kneeling on the carpet and Oliver a few feet in front of her, his head erect, desperately trying to crawl to his mother. “Shit!” Xavier said under his breath. Oliver, hearing the door open, immediately turned his head and smiled up at him. Avoiding the inevitable confrontation, Xavier hastily disappeared into the bedroom.
“Do you think you’re clever?” Katie asked with unmistakable malice: she was standing in the doorway. “What did you hope to achieve? I was about to call the Police!” She stopped speaking for a moment; her eyes like some wild animal’s. “You need help!” The door slammed behind her as she went back into the living room.

After talking to the Doctor, Xavier felt like a valve had been opened slightly, easing the pressure inside his heart. He folded the prescription in half, put it in his back pocket and left the Doctor’s office. The elevator door closed and Xavier began crying again. The drive to the pharmacy seemed to last an eternity: this must be a dream, he thought; the cars passing by appeared to be floating just above the road like hovercraft; the deep growling of the Cadillac’s engine sounded like monks singing Gregorian chant. “I can’t believe it’s come to this!” Xavier kept saying to himself as he waited for the Pharmacist to give him his Prozac. An appointment had been made for him to begin seeing a therapist for counseling that would eventually, combined with the Prozac fix his ‘problem’. That was the plan. However, no one had prepared Xavier for the horrors of self-analysis and self-reflection and so Xavier soon shut off his subconscious mind from the probing questions of the therapist and completed his sessions relatively painlessly and walked away with a new classification. He wasn’t depressed; he was suffering from ‘adjustment disorder’. To his friends and work-mates, once he had persuaded himself that this was an enviable thing, he proudly spoke of his new affliction, as a child would show off a medal or trophy.

But now, sitting on the bed with the first two pills in his hand, Xavier looked down at the mind-altering drug and, reading the print on the capsules, breathed in deeply. “Save me!” he prayed before he swallowed.

Chapter 13: Zimbabwe

Xavier lit another cigarette and leant back in the yellow vinyl café chair; the ashtray was already overflowing. ‘I must slow down with the fags,’ he said to himself before remembering that he’d bought two packs on the way home from work. The balcony he was sitting on looked out onto a tropical garden planted with tall, slender palms. A pair of pigeons had recently built a nest near the top of the one closest to the balcony in the cluster of its branches. The globe lamps on thin, eight feet tall poles illuminated the pathways around the trees. An unusually cool December breeze suddenly blew through the mosquito netting sending a shiver down Xavier’s spine. Katie was back in Durham (at her mother’s house in the village of Brandon, three miles south of the city center) to be with her mother: Elizabeth had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and was undergoing chemotherapy at Dryburn Hospital. The day before Thanksgiving, Katie had called Xavier at work and pleaded with him to come home immediately. Driving his wife and son to Miami airport two hours later, Xavier had begun thinking that this break would help his marriage. He and Katie had been slowly growing apart since the move from Burlingame. The anti-depressants seemed to have stopped working and Xavier had felt his emotional state worsening. Standing very still beside the Jeep, hands in his pockets, ignoring the impatient horn of the car that was waiting for the space he’d parked in, Xavier had watched as Katie and Oliver disappeared into the crowded United Airlines’ check-in hall. Katie’s farewell tears had touched him briefly, but as he drove away, fighting through the crazy pre-Thanksgiving Day airport traffic, Xavier had blocked out his weakening emotions and urgently headed home.

The sealed white envelope containing the latest letter to his parents lay on the upturned cardboard box that Xavier used as a side table (for his beer and the ashtray) on the balcony. Opening another bottle of Grolsch, enjoying the fresh “phshh!” sound it produced as the hinged ceramic top popped off, Xavier looked down at the pathways below illuminated by the orange-yellow globe lamps; they appeared to be undulating ever so slightly like cold snakes. Tipping the bottle of Grolsch to his lips, toying with his Swiss Army knife in his left hand, Xavier thought back to his night in the ventilation shaft at St. Mary’s College. He put his beer down and opened up the two-inch blade: the steel flashed enticingly in front of him, reflecting the light from the living room behind him as it moved to the scar on his left arm. Xavier pressed it down hard onto his forearm enjoying the anticipation.

Xavier, Katie and Oliver had moved from Burlingame to Fort Lauderdale the previous July; Elizabeth paying for all their furniture, belongings and the Jeep to be shipped across country. Xavier had soon found a job as Front Desk supervisor at a hotel on the beach, a job he was enjoying – finally! Life was still hard for him to cope with, but the pills made it tolerable. Since Katie and Oliver had left, Xavier had spent his evenings and days off drinking, acerbating his depression. Nights like these had become more frequent over the last couple of weeks especially.

Words began forming in his head into an expression of his pathetic emotional state; a description of which he’d tried to convey earlier in the letter to his parents but had eventually skirted. Xavier paused to listen as his beer-soaked brain attempted to formulate the mish-mash of words into something coherent, the steel blade waiting eagerly to do its work. Looking up, Xavier saw the three lights – red, white and green – of a small airplane moving across the dark sky, hidden for a few seconds as they went behind the branches of the pigeon’s palm tree and then continuing on their silent journey until they disappeared behind the roof-top of the adjacent apartment building. Lifting the steel away from his arm, Xavier inhaled sharply and closed up the penknife. He picked up the note pad and pen that were on the floor to his right and began spewing his anger and pain instead onto the yellow ruled paper.

‘It’s a lie!’

‘It’s a lie! It’s a lie!
It’s a sigh
from deep within my soul.
It’s a lie! It’s a lie!

It’s a wave goodbye
from the departure gate
as you fly away with my baby.
Tears that are forming

are for him, not you my lady!
The look; the love you see in my eyes
is for my child.
It’s a lie! It’s a lie!

It’s a cry
from my heartstrings.
It’s a lie! It’s a lie!
It’s a shrug of my shoulders

as I shy away
from your affections.
Fears that are growing are for the future
away from my child.’

The computer finally, after a typically long pause, acknowledged that the email had been sent. Albert logged out and turned to Jodie, standing on his right in the University library. “I’m sure he’s okay, darling! He’s strong enough to get through this. We’ll call Katie tonight to see how things are with Elizabeth and see if Xavier has called her.” One of his students appeared and after first greeting Jodie, shyly approached Albert.
“Excuse me Professor Lewis, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I would like to invite you and Mrs. Lewis to lunch this Sunday, if you are free.”
Albert pushed the chair back away from the desk, rose and shook Joseph’s outstretched hand. “Thank you Joseph, I don’t think we have any plans: do we dear?”
“No. That would be lovely. Thank you Joseph” Jodie responded. “How’s the baby?”
“Very well Mrs. Lewis. She’s growing up too fast. You won’t recognize her. Well, I have some research to do for the last paper you gave us Professor Lewis. I must go. You can come to my house any time after eleven o’clock. Goodbye Mrs. Lewis; Professor Lewis.” Joseph bowed slightly before turning to leave.

Joseph Mlalazi was one of Albert’s more promising students at the new National University of Arts and Technology in Bulawayo. A quiet, gentle man in his early thirties – almost the same age as Xavier, but so much more focused and mature Albert thought – Joseph had scored almost perfect marks in all of the exams the previous semester and his presentation of rural housing options at the highly acclaimed Student’s Day (that Albert taken upon himself to organize) had received much praise from the invited guests – a large selection of local architects, University staff and board members. Jodie and Joseph’s young wife Shari, a statuesque Ndebele girl with a large afro that she usually kept in tight braids, had very quickly become close friends; Shari affectionately called Jodie “Auntie” even when they were out in public together. Jodie had learnt to prepare some delicious local dishes during the last few months; recipes that she practiced on Albert much to his delectation; his favorite to date was a soup made with vegetables cooked in oil strained from palm nuts, very similar to palm nut stew, a traditional Ghanaian dish.

Escaping the increasing political unrest in Cyprus when his contract at the International University of Lefke ended, Albert had happily accepted the post of Head of Department at the School of Architecture at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo (the second capital of Zimbabwe) and following a brief holiday in England, he and Jodie had moved there; back to Africa! This was a great opportunity he thought; the fairly new University was still growing, both in size and in prestige and beginning to attract students from neighboring countries. Now settled, three months later, into a very comfortable house – a beautiful, large, colonial style bungalow with an expansive, walled garden planted with lush, tropical flora and fauna in the suburbs of Bulawayo – Albert and Jodie finally felt at peace. Although for the most part a Mediterranean paradise, Cyprus had always had the discouraging shadow of political and ethnic unrest hanging over it, and even though she kept her fears hidden from everyone, Jodie at times felt uneasy when walking or driving alone. Little was she to know that in a short while, she would be feeling even more timorous in Zimbabwe.

Albert, his eye attached to the viewfinder of the camera – an aging Olympus SLR that he’d bought many years ago from Robertson’s Photography in Durham – focused carefully as the elephants sauntered past not more than ten feet away. The guide, a handsome young Zimbabwean man, was speaking very softly, so softly that Jodie could not hear him over her tinnitus. Hwange National Park was one of Zimbabwe’s best and most visited – the country has numerous Wild Game Parks – and had become a frequent weekend destination for them. “What did he say?” Jodie whispered as she pulled a dainty, white handkerchief embroidered with tiny daisies from a pocket on her long, blue denim skirt and patted the perspiration that was collecting in her graceful eyebrows.
“I wasn’t listening darling. Sorry. I’m trying to get a photograph of the matriarch.” Albert was engrossed in his camera’s viewfinder. Jodie turned to look towards the couple from South Africa standing on the other side of the guide who, with his arm on the woman’s shoulder was now animatedly pointing at the area of bush that the herd of elephants had come from. The lone painted hunting dog that the guide had pointed out earlier was crouched low in the yellow grass; it’s over-sized round ears cocked. The young woman – a very pretty, tall and slender model type with shiny, auburn, shoulder blade length hair – was saying something to her husband, obviously quite rich due to his marked unattractiveness and weight, and appeared to be pulling him back; the man, the back of his light blue short-sleeved shirt stuck to his sweaty back, seemed to be leaning forward as though about to start running. Jodie could hear the guide speaking with a thick local accent that she could normally understand, but still could not make out a word that he was saying. The young South African man suddenly turned to his wife, raised his right arm high in the air and brought it down with a great slap across her left cheek.
“Albert! Look! He just hit her!” Jodie tugged at Albert’s arm.
“Jodie!” Albert, almost pouting, turned to see what was so urgent. “I almost had it! She was looking at us and the baby was in the picture too. What’s going on?” His forehead was deeply furrowed.
Just then, from a little way behind the group of seven that Albert and Jodie were a part of, the roar of a diesel engine erupted. The opened-topped stretched Land Rover, painted with large zebra stripes, lurched forward, its tires throwing up clouds of orange dust into the sweltering midday air. The man in the passenger seat, a middle-aged white man with shoulder length, wavy, blonde hair was aiming a black rifle out of the window in the direction of the group of visitors and shouting to the driver in Afrikaans.
“What’s going on Albert?” Jodie was panicking.
“It’s okay dear! They won’t harm us,” Albert said reassuringly with his head held high and shoulders pulled back like a kangaroo defending its territory. He was dressed in his favorite safari suit, with matching hat. (Xavier had always thought his father, when dressed up like this, looked as though he’d stepped out of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.) Just as he was about to begin puffing up his chest, the Land Rover, bouncing across the rough terrain like a child’s Tonka truck in a sand pit, veered off to the left of the group, the white man with the rifle, his blonde hair blowing about wildly, desperately trying to keep the gun steady.

What happened in the next few seconds was like a scene from a film played in slow motion before Jodie’s eyes: a deafening shot rang out as the rifle went off; there were two or three screams in unison; everyone ducked; the guide fell to the ground pulling the woman who’d been slapped with him; Albert grasped Jodie’s waist and pulled her in to his arms; shouting something in Afrikaans, the man who’d slapped his wife fell on top of the her and the guide; the Land Rover, without slowing at all, crashed into the bush in the vicinity of the guide’s interest; the painted hunting dog let out a high-pitched howl as it sprinted off; a large lion with sandy-yellow fur sprang out from the bush to the left of the bouncing (and now braking) zebra-striped Land Rover and darted off into another area of bush about fifteen yards away from Albert and Jodie.

“Everyone alright?” the white marksman from the Land Rover, dressed very similarly to Albert (minus the hat) and proudly holding his shiny black rifle across his chest, asked once everyone had calmed down and stopped talking. The woman who’d been slapped, her previously pale cheek now quite red and sore looking raised her arm. “Go ahead young lady” he responded, motioning to her with the rifle. He spat as she began to speak, the ball of saliva hitting the dirt with a soft thud and raising a small puff of dust from the scorched earth.
“I’d like to leave now please.” She couldn’t have been more than twenty years old Jodie thought as she watched the proceedings from a few feet away, comfortable in the shade of the baobab tree that she, Albert and the guide were standing under. The other two tourists, Ruby and Derek Patterson from Nottingham, with whom Albert and Jodie had chatted on the drive out, were climbing into the back of the Land Rover that had parked alongside them all. They had come to Zimbabwe to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary: they’d lived in the country for many years when it had been Rhodesia but had returned to England when power had been handed over to the Africans. The husband of the young woman, standing behind her, was glaring at the guide as he drank from a bottle of water he’d been carrying in a sling over his shoulder. He shot Albert and Jodie a disdainful look before turning to speak to his fellow countryman who was wiping the barrel of his rifle with a bandana that had been tucked into his back pocket.
“They’re ruining the whole country! It’s the same back home; they think they can run these great countries, but it was our people who built everything, designed the towns. These people…” he flicked his head in their direction, “are destroying everything we built!”
The blonde man nodded in agreement and spat again. “Mugabe’s a bloody bastard! The fucking veterans took my farm! I wanted to shoot the whole fucking lot of them! I came to this country when I was twenty-six, built a farm, worked on it every bloody day for twenty years, and Mugabe tells them to take it from me! I’ll kill the bloody bastards! ”
Jodie’s tinnitus couldn’t shield her ears from the conversation the two white men were having. She hated these bigots and their angry words that she encountered every day. It was true that the President was doing a dreadful job at running the country: the economy was in shambles; crime was out of the control of the police, a corrupt bunch of lazy men who most of the time turned a blind eye to crimes against the white populous – Albert and Jodie had already had their home burglarized whilst away on weekend trips to Kyle View in the Eastern Highlands twice in the year they’d been in Zimbabwe, the night watchmen, replaced after each break-in, asleep while the thieves were at work. But the attitude that the majority of white Zimbabweans were developing was not going to help matters in any way, Jodie believed, on the contrary, it was making life more difficult than it should be, especially for those (mostly foreigners) with more liberal views.
“I’ll fucking kill him!” The young South African scowled at the guide, who, with his head bowed, was staring at the dry, yellow, cracked earth around his bare feet, which Jodie noticed were as dry, yellow, cracked and dusty as the ground they stood on.

Two comforting cups of tea and a piece of home-made Key lime pie (from a recipe Jodie had found on a postcard in the tiny gift shop in Key West airport) later, Albert folded the newspaper in half on his lap and took a deep breath of warm late afternoon air filled with a myriad of floral scents. “Let’s call Katie and see how everything’s going.”

Chapter 14: Cold Turkey

(To continue reading, please email the author at to request the rest of the manuscript.)


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