On departures

I didn’t tell people I was going, because I hadn’t told myself.

Sydney was a place where other people moved; after which, we’d agree to meet in other, more interesting places, because Australia was the place you went when you were tired, had had enough, had given up.

I hadn’t given up at all.

There had been years of What-Now conversations with dad on the other side of the world, words turning into a song in my head that never left me alone. His hair now entirely white, self-driving skills dubious. Then a phone call from a newsroom in need of a new correspondent, asking if, perhaps, I’d thought about coming home?

There was no decision made; in its stead, a sort of tacit acceptance, a vague sense of okay.

I packed blindly: a life into 2 x 23kg wheely suitcases.

What do you bring to start over?

I packed knives, rolled in newspaper, tucked in between silk shirts: 3 Globals, because efficient slicing is satisfying; small comforts, tools to make new friends.

I made a "PACK FOR SYDNEY" list of forgetfulness, of art prints and adaptors, favourite winter coats and my Le Creuset frying pan: items carefully set aside for suitcases, then accidentally packed into disparate plastic crates at the bottom of my human Jenga store room, so there was no hope I’d be able to find them, ever.

I sat, thighs on cool parquet, gently wallowing in denial, wondering what to do next.

Gin is meant for melancholy: astringent enough for a clean break, gentle enough with sweet tonic to soothe, consumed in volumes to make you cry.

The Spanish drink theirs with a curl of orange zest, hunks of ice, just a dash of tonic.

Duly inspired in Nairobi over many summers, we made enormous iceblocks in torn disposable water bottles, to melt slowly in fat glasses; drank them in the garden.

At the “tapas” bar in Parktown North - Thai green curry is not tapas - they offer infusions of citrus and thyme.

Years go, in my first week at university, I sat in a wood-lined set of rooms, across a quadrangle from Cardinal Wolsey’s hat, and drank it out of a white plastic cup, too-strong, with lukewarm tonic. I was reading Mill for the first time, and it was England, so it seemed the appropriate thing to do.

Later, there were paper-thin slices of cucumber, chunks of ice in game parks, on the sides of watering holes.

On the floor, I considered my situation, purchased two bottles of amber Inverroche, had them bubble wrapped.

At last-minute-last-night drinks, we served bottles of it in short glasses with Fitch & Leedes, slices of orange, a fragrant ode to mellow summers and African suns.

At my favourite wine bar: flurries of people in waves, bearing cards and African CDs and small newborn babies. Painful hugs that made me wince; so many people, so many everythings.

Stories, conversations, sentences; all become truncated because you’re not sure what punctuation mark should follow. I didn’t know what to do with my face.

There was no time, so I didn’t do things that could be considered lasts.

In the end, just gulps of cold sauvignon blanc in the foyer of the airport Intercontinental, a run through the rain, miscellany of life rattling around in an expandable bag.

To fly through the night, into the approaching darkness, eat hummus with too much tahini in a Middle Eastern airport lounge at dawn, and awake in a tomorrow, not knowing if departing means I’ll ever arrive.


Infused gin in Parktown North, www.workshop55.co.za, +27 11 442 6252
Inverroche, www.inverroche.co.za
Favourite wine bar, Ace + Pearl, www.acepearl.com
Gulps of sauvignon blanc at the Intercontinental, https://www.tsogosun.com/intercontinental-or-tambo-airport, +27 11 961 5400