Bursting Cloud 9


The scenery is picturesque – a wriggling green blanket of grass as if covering a giggle of children.

I’m travelling between Worcester and Bristol on a cross country train. The ticket has been booked online entering only starting & destination points so I’ve no idea of the stops between. In the distance there’s a water tower on top a hill that I just know I climbed as a child. I’m taken aback by the flood of emotions that suddenly overcome me as I realise the places I’m seeing are actually familiar from a brief two years I lived here as a child.

Now I’m journeying through a woodland area …

… leaves underfoot and sprinkles of light fluttering through the trees. My mum, sister and I have linked arms. We’re taking up the width of the pathway and striding while singing “we walk straight so you better get out the way, if you don’t get out the way we’ll kick you out the way”; at which point we fling a pile of leaves in the air with our boots amid fits of laughter. My mum encourages us along with other ditties like “watch out, watch out, wherever you are the mouse is round the corner”. Mum worked 6 days a week and I’m sure she had worries but Sundays were reserved for cheerful outdoor adventures, come rain or shine.

My sister and aunt outside the shop

They were simple times …

… living above the grocery store my parents bought in Dursley, England (a huge contrast from what I’d been used to in Africa – large house, swimming pool, servants and parties). Our meals were plucked from the shop freezer – ‘Findus’ meat balls or ‘Birds Eye’ fish-fingers or a tin of ‘Frey Bentos’ Steak and Kidney pie – quite unlike the formal dinners we had in Zambia where we rang the bell to let our chef know we were ready to be served.

It took a while to be accepted by the village children, suspicious of foreigners, but eventually I made friends, started playing the flute and was happy at school. I transitioned from a child into the first flush of womanhood.

On cloud 9 – looking down with my future mapped out before me.

My friend Caroline, and I start to experiment with make up and each week we pop by the record shop and purchase the latest number one hit. She choreographs dance manoeuvres to ‘Mr Postman’ by the Carpenters:

“Please Mister Postman, look and see
(Oh yeah)
If there’s a letter in your bag for me
(Please, Please Mister Postman)
Why’s it takin’ such a long time
(Oh yeah)
For me to hear from that boy of mine”

We earnestly practise in her tiny lounge with Honey, the Labrador, appreciatively watching.

On return home there’s a crumpled note for me in shaky scrawl: “will you go out with me” – signed David and with a giant X! I can’t believe my luck. He’s the boy down the street I’ve fancied forever (or at least the last three weeks). I’m on cloud 9 – looking down with my future mapped out before me. We’re going to the fun fair together next week … and then …. and then.

Cloud 9 bursts a week later with a torrent of tears down my cheeks as I’m informed we are returning to Africa. Stormily I protest, my thrashing arms cutting the air with hurricane force.

But a child doesn’t have a choice …. except to decide to face the fog of an uncertain future with a sunny disposition.

Each move (there have been many) has been an emotional disruption. It’s about this age I took a vow to make clean cuts – to leave a place and friends (without actually saying goodbye if possible) and NEVER look back. The train jolts me out of my time warp to the present – time for me to assess which inner parts of me need to be worked on; to make peace with my past; to be in the moment and to thoroughly enjoy the present.

( I was amazed to find a picture of the shop on Google Maps – it has changed from a grocery to farm machinery shop but still looks remarkably the same as when we were there – 4 decades ago!)

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