Mum is at her most serene when we are out walking. Her whole countenance changes, and with each footfall she brightens. It’s as if the absence of walls allows her to shed a persona and, with the loss of a roof I swear she gains two inches in height.
Quite the explorer, she enjoys discovering new pathways snaking through the grass and is fearless about slithering reptiles and monkeys as she strides along with a lightness of sole. We stoop to examine a grasshopper here or stretch to reach for an interesting leaf there. Conversations meander through her childhood and the interesting life she has lived as an adult.
She’s an explorer, a biologist, a philosopher … And, in the sunshine, a precious jewel with silver filaments of hair; golden skin and lips of ruby.
As the great orb lowers in the sky, the valley is striped with contrasting areas of bright and dark. Mum becomes more introspective and our talk touches the shadows: being old. However it’s always interrupted when the African sun sets rapidly and we’re left scurrying to get home before night fall.
In truth, I don’t know how to go to those dark places with her. The physical inconveniences of ageing are cruel and the topic of “what happens next?” is as vast and inconclusive as the universe.
Back inside, Mum is like a wind up toy – ever on the hunt for housework to do – mainly washing and ironing. With activity, her breathing deteriorates but our attempts to persuade her to rest, fall on deaf ears. She’s up early in the morning and never has a “Nanna nap”. Absurdly we’ve even gone as far as hiding our washing but she always finds something to go into the endless machine cycle on which she is stuck. I know this behaviour is fear based.
She’s afraid to sit down lest she dissolve into her chair and melt into a puddle of nothingness.
I did what I could to help, always trying to preserve her independence and dignity. Now I’m left with a vision of Mum walking sure footed; parting a path through red hot poker plants; marching towards the great African sunset and stepping off the edge into my embrace. But we’re a world apart so it can’t be.
It’s not death but Covid that is currently keeping us apart.