At Tambo airport, Johannesburg, the immigration man asks me,
‘How are you?’ ‘Good,’ I say. But he shakes his
head. ‘You don’t look good,’ he insists. I am back in Africa, I think. No white
lies for me.
The young girl in charge of my
wheelchair does a great deal more for me than she’s paid to do. She peels off
my old-woman pressure socks and helps me put away my cold-weather stuff, two
cardigans, two pairs of woolly socks, shoes and shawl, in my suitcase. The
cabin in the plane was freezing. My toes are slowly recovering from blue to
something close to lavender.
I don’t need warm clothes for the short hop to
Nelspruit. I put my Indian sandals on and feel immediately more human. This is
where I belong, I think, sometimes even more than in India where I was born. I
have spent half my adult life on this continent, working or hibernating after
retirement. Unlike the UK, this is a good place to be when you’re old, if you
don’t expect too much by way of resuscitation, if your lungs give up on you. In
a way that is good too from where I stand.
very kind,’ I say to the girl. ‘May be you also very kind to
me.’ She smiles. This is a language I understandI make
a mental note to find some extra change for her
'Pounds or Rand? I ask.
‘Pounds,’ she answers without hesitation. The Rand is slipping fast. The last time I was
here, in 2011, it was sixteen to the Pound. Today it is twenty-three.
eventually, I get to Nelspruit, forty-five minutes away, it is boiling hot. The
Strelitzia, (named after Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George, the third,
of Mecklesberg, Strelitzia) or the Bird- of -Paradise as the plebs like me call
them, are holding their bird-like pink-and-blue heads up proudly along the short walk-way to the airport. A surfeit of
elegance! I wonder, was Queen Charlotte elegant too? I walk slowly to the
concourse, enjoying the brief moment in that no-man’s land between one sector
of a journey and another, to yet another wheel-chair assistant, and another
inefficient search in my disorganised hand-bag for tipping change
hot here – hotter than I expected, hotter than ever before. But this is one of the things I came for, I
remind myself, running away as I was from the February chill in England, which in
the end, never quite arrived.
In a moment I am surrounded by my friends; it feels like home.