“Meddum,” she said. “I have some bad news. Nelson is in prison!”
It was the jetlag, I thought, I couldn’t have heard right. It was bad enough coming home to find Saziso, our lovely housemaid, pregnant. We’d only been gone a month; how did I not know before?
Trying to get my travel weary brain to focus, I asked “Nelson? Prison? How? Why? When?”
Apparently, the police had just turned up at our house two days ago and told her. Saziso had tried to find out, but as was the norm here, she wasn’t told anything. Neither were our local friends who she had gone to for help.
“Not Nelson,” we muttered despairingly, he was the sweetest man God had ever created, with an extra heart where the brain should have been. My husband went directly to the local police station, while I came inside to unpack, shower, and make sense of it all. Random arrests in Hwange were not uncommon, but what could the authorities possibly want from a simple, hardworking, and honest gardener? I found myself in tears, thinking of our dear sweet boy.
This is a true story. I’ve heard it so often; I can recite it verbatim just as my father told it.
He’s been retired for thirty years, my father, exactly as long as I’ve been married. Retired as an Infantry Brigadier General from the Indian Army after which he continued to work as the Security Advisor at the Indian Tea Association. In fact, at 84, recovering from a massive heart attack, he still thinks he does… his poor bosses at ITA just don’t know how to get rid of him.
Like every old-fashioned gent (not many of them around anymore, sadly), he has a handful of stories, which come out every time there is a group of people, a few drinks, and fried peanuts. They are taken out lovingly from his little repertoire, told, polished, embellished, and then put away till the next time. My sister and I had to go through it all with our friends as we were growing up, there was no escaping. And now, our children must as well, no escaping for them either.
Pulling open the curtains on a bright and sunny September morning, she saw a flicker of reddish gold.
“Can it be,” she thought, “already?”
She leant forward and let out a little sigh when she realised that the leaves on her cherry tree were indeed turning colour. Autumn (or fall, as Katy her daughter, doing her master’s degree at Boston University, had started saying) had arrived!
For the last twenty-six years, this was such a happy time for Billy and her. Autumn was when they started making their holiday plans. They always went away in winter, even when the children had been little.
“Why would we leave Scotland in summer,” Moira was fond of saying. “It’s so beautiful here. Ach no, it’s when its freezing, we want away.”
Christmas at home, of course, but Hogmanay, wherever they fancied. Somewhere warm and exotic if business had been good that year. If not, even the Lake Districts or the caravan park in Dunoon would be warmer than Ballater. Besides, nobody ever came up here that time of the year, and their little B&B would most certainly survive without a few weeks’ bookings.