‘S

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

o,” asked Cindy, the well-sa­faried Amer­i­can woman you get in ev­ery up­mar­ket bush camp. “What brings you to Kenya?” “Well,” said my sis­ter, gaz­ing into the camp fire. “My fa­ther died last year, and he lived half his life in East Africa, and we’re here to… er… rem­i­nisce.” Cindy swirled her ice cubes and stared harder. “You haven’t, like, brought his ashes or any­thing?” “Um…” “You have?” A pause. “Beau­ti­ful.” But it was not beau­ti­ful. We had ru­ined Cindy’s evening. She turned with a stricken smile to the banker sit­ting on her left.

When my mother an­nounced her in­ten­tion that we would be tak­ing Dad’s ashes back to Kenya, I was hor­ri­fied. Not that I didn’t think he should get his fi­nal wish. I could think of no bet­ter place for a man once nick­named “Ma­sai” for his re­lent­less stride; a man who, de­spite 50 years spent in Eng­land, re­mained un­rec­on­ciled to a life away from the bush. Dad de­served to rest his weary bones in the African dust. I just didn’t want to con­front this fi­nal­ity en famille, cor­ralled into a place with no es­cape and no pri­vacy.

We are a typ­i­cally Bri­tish fam­ily, and Dad was, iron­i­cally, the most typ­i­cal of them all: re­served, uptight, no group hugs, no gush­ing. The oc­ca­sional gruff ut­ter­ance, if feel­ings must be made known. His death aged 82, a year ago, had been dealt with prag­mat­i­cally. The aw­ful gap­ing hole he left at home un­nerved me, but I couldn’t be seen to crum­ple, for Mum’s sake. Equally, she felt she had to keep strong and pos­i­tive, for our sakes. My sis­ter, Juliet, was all for sell­ing the house, tidy­ing up the loose ends: it was eas­ier to fo­cus on this, than those cor­ners where he still lurked. His sun­hat was still on the peg; his binoc­u­lars on the desk; his large shoes still kept their place in the wardrobe.

This pro­posed trip, paid for by “the es­tate”, was go­ing to be com­pli­cated on many lev­els. But what I feared most was the in­evitable en­forced emot­ing. How could such a hol­i­day not be heavy? I fore­saw tear­ful scenes un­der the African stars; re­proaches and ac­cu­sa­tions. We were still find­ing our feet as a fam­ily of three, with what felt like one leg miss­ing from the kitchen ta­ble. Stuff was bound to come up. I dreaded this sa­fari – so much that I booked my­self on to an ear­lier flight to Nairobi in an at­tempt to keep cool and col­lected.

We met at Wilson air­port, where small planes de­liver khaki-clad tourists to the game re­serves. Mum was clutch­ing an omi­nous-look­ing black bag. Dad was, she told me, the size of “three large pack­ets of Pringles”, and he would not fit into her lug­gage. Did I have room for him? He had trav­elled this far in her hand bag­gage, and a cer­tifi­cate from the un­der­tak­ers had got him through cus­toms. He was a great one for trav­el­ling light, my fa­ther; I wasn’t sure if he’d be pleased by his re­duced bulk, or sur­prised by the weight and quan­tity of it. Three Pringles-sized tubes. How were we go­ing to stage-man­age this?

Noth­ing more was said. Not one of us could bring our­selves to take con­trol, lest it end in an ar­gu­ment (or tears). Dad sat in the black bag, at Mum’s feet, as we jolted about the Ma­sai Mara in our sa­fari Jeep. Vul­tures cir­cled lazily. Hye­nas cringed, whoop­ing, wait­ing for lions to fin­ish with a car­cass. The skulls of wilde­beest lit­tered the plains, some with ghastly topknots of back hair. Death – and birth – was ev­ery­where.

My first and last trip to Kenya was with Dad, 17 years ago. We had gone on our own, and I had got to know him, fi­nally. See­ing him on home turf had trans­formed my un­der­stand­ing of him. Back then I was 28, sin­gle, and on a great ad­ven­ture. But now that the wheel of life had nudged Dad off the top, I too had moved fur­ther up. Now I was a 45-year-old mother of two, fum­bling with the two pairs of glasses I needed to see any­thing. My mind was partly back in London, with the chil­dren, in­stead of

Home from home: Tessa and her fa­ther Peter on sa­fari in 1997

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.