In which we cross off another marker of expat life far too early
This post was supposed to be funny.
Last week, I was asked for some samples of my writing from the more ‘amusing’ end of the spectrum so thought I’d better replenish the stocks, like a squirrel before winter.
I’d half drafted something hysterical when I had to hit save and step away from the keyboard to do the weekly grocery shop.
Not because I’m one of those writers who gets his best ideas watching “real people” in “real life”, or trying to work out what they’re thinking from the contents of their trolley (although from the looks Kid A got as we wandered aimlessly round the detergent aisle, it seems like a lot people were thinking “thank god she’s there to help him”.)
No, I hit the shops because we were out of milk and toothpaste, stuff like that. And in the brief time I was out, everything changed again.
* * *
I usually go on my own – and secretly quite enjoy it – but this time I asked Kid A to come along, and of course she immediately wanted to know why the break from the norm.
But it was too early in the morning – and in her life in general – to give her the unvarnished truth: that I’d handed out a disproportionate punishment the previous evening for some minor infraction (backchat, obstinance; the very essence of her DNA) and needed to show her that I wasn’t all bad.
Plus, as a bonus, anyone who comes shopping with me gets to try their luck asking for things I wouldn’t normally buy. I think this appealed to her sense of one-upmanship. All of which explains the many packets of tortilla chips I came home with. No really, it does.
Shopping done, there then followed a bit of Buster Keaton-esque hilarity in the car park when the floor cleaner started oozing everywhere (seriously: what is it with detergent bottles in this part of the world? Every week, something leaks before I can get it home; shoddy, shoddy packaging) and as I flapped around covered in skin-rotting, but pleasantly-scented, goo I stubbed my toe on the car’s wheel and sliced the top of my toenail off.
So now there was blood, and low-level moaning, and a pre-emptive call to Mrs LC to ask for help unloading when I got home. I wrapped my bleeding toe in a baby wipe and manned up for the short drive back.
And there was help waiting for me, or so I thought.
Amnesiac was sitting on the steps outside our house looking distinctly un-chuffed. I thought it was because he’d been forcibly separated from his Lego by his mother and told to help drag in the shopping.
“You ok, mate?” I asked, ready to see whatever was bothering him, and raise him my bleeding stump.
“No. I am sad because Auntie Joy has died,” he said in the matter-of-fact way so beloved of five-year-olds.
Whilst we’d been out, Mrs LC had received The Call. The one you know will come at some point, but one we had hoped wouldn’t have happened quite so soon.
The Call that only brings bad news; that reinforces distance and absence like nothing else.
Auntie Joy – never just Joy; never ‘Aunt’ – a member of the old guard on Mrs LC’s side, had died earlier that morning.
So many thoughts all at once. Starting with: Really? I didn’t know she was ill. Did I know she was ill? Maybe I just wasn’t listening. We were only talking about her the other day. When? How? Really?
And because everything here is dictated by logistics, that part of my brain kicked in almost immediately after.
When’s the funeral? Is Mrs LC going? Can she get the time off work?
And answers weren’t forthcoming, because it was the weekend here and in the UK; because the news was too new. All of which left Mrs LC to spend the day in a daze, feeling very far away from her family.
I’d love to say that the kids were angelic in their support and understanding. But when it comes to a lack of empathy, they can give psychopaths a serious run for their money.
“I’m sorry you’re sad, Mummy. Can we watch Kung-Fu Panda again? Or Narnia? Or Bug’s Life? Why is that man smoking? Doesn’t he know smoking’s bad for him? Look at that aeroplane, Mummy, where’s it going, Mummy? Is this a restaurant? Why’s he got more noodles than me? Is this sauce spicy? Do we have to eat here again if we don’t like it? Can we go for a swi–”
On and on and on they went.
Maybe we were a touch sensitive, but they had turned relentless up to 11 and ripped off the dial.
Because you can be immersing yourself as much as you like in the culture, customs and climate of your new home. But when The Call comes, it acts like the Tardis – picking you up from one world, spinning you around at high speed, and depositing you right back where you started from – surrounded by the familiar, but where everything has changed ever-so slightly.
So now our week has a very different look and feel.
All those things on our to do list, all of which need Mrs LC – because she’s the one with the job, the resident’s permit, the bank account, the permission – need to be accelerated.
Replacing the busted hire car (two days before we were due to hand it back); handing back its replacement after two days’ use; transferring the registration on the second-hand car we’re buying (in person, naturally); getting ourselves registered (probably in person) at Kharamaa so that we don’t default on our utilities bill…
They all need Mrs LC. We need her here. Her family needs her. They all need to be done in the next few days. Only she will now be heading back ‘home’ at some point, back to a funeral, and the cold of England in November.
And yes, it still feels like home, because we haven’t been away from it long enough for it to be anything else.
But a week that had stretched out before us is now condensed and concentrated.
And so I abandoned the amusing blog post and started writing something else instead; another to do list, one that started with: winter clothes – where?