Thursday, 4 August 2011

Short spring


I looked out of the tiny window, and turned to my brother sitting beside me “make sure your belt is fastened”. He scowled and mumbled something about sitting by the window, but did as he was told.

The instructions had been very clear “you take care of your brother, make sure you stay together; your father will be there to pick you up when you arrive”.

I felt very grown up sitting by the window as the plane started to taxi and then took of for the short flight southwards to Basra airport that warm February day, it was the first time we had flown alone, the spring holidays had started and we were going to see our father.

It felt like we went up and down on the same spot, the trip was over so quickly, and we came down the steps into the humid heat looking out for a familiar face in the crowds.

The drive home seemed longer than the flight, winding through roads, listening to the ongoing commentary and directions, statues, buildings, the river, the bridge, and the island across.

We stopped at the massive market place to pick up some essentials before finally reaching the old “English” house, close to the soft drinks factory that would be our base for the next two weeks.

We went out most evenings, even if briefly and only for a short walk by the riverside (in the days before the sandbags), but more often we went visiting, two families in particular and spent a night at their homes, playing in the garden, working up an appetite and devouring the meals of fish and rice with a bottle of the locally bottled Pepsi-cola.

During the day, I took charge of the rather neglected house, clearing and cleaning, and cooking my very first unsupervised meals, I managed to produce rather basic fare, and had to quickly pick up the art of cooking rice without draining it, as I had been unable to locate a colander.

But the real treat was at the end of the week, we had been invited to visit a special friend, and after driving for several hours we eventually completed the trip in two narrow boats, expertly handled by the young boy perched at the end, I sat stiffly in a boat whose edges were barely skimming the water surface, too scared to move my arms lest I tip the balance and end up underwater, my panic picked up by passing friends of our sailor who “accidentally” wobbled their boats dangerously close by, laughing loudly.

By the time we returned home it was pitch black and the roads virtually empty, and as is typical in times like these we had a burst tyre.

The adults got out to change it and we decided to stretch our legs, and wander around in the road.
A few minutes later I heard the metal gates screech behind me, and a smiling face framed in a white scarf peer out, beckoning me she started chatting, two glasses of something cold were handed to those working on the car, and we were invited inside.

By the time we had finished out tea and kleicha, the car was ready to go.

For much of the time we spent there during holidays, my father would proudly talk about his plans, once we got through final exams, we may move down, I would complete my studies and become a doctor, and then I was to be a brain surgeon!

Needless to say we didn’t move down, the flights stopped, and with them our visits, several of the people we visited are no longer with us, the one who eventually returned after several years across the river was never the same again, and I never did become a brain surgeon.

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