I passed a house yesterday. It was the last place I saw my father alive.
I hadn’t expected the car to turn up that road, wasn’t really thinking about where we were as the vehicle moved slowly through town. Lansdowne Place is a graceful Regency avenue, creamy, bowed Georgian houses lining the steep road down to the sea. My uncle lives in one of the ground floor flats. There are huge windows reaching from floor to high ceiling, books on philosophy along the walls, a chess board always caught mid-game on some surface. Intriguing photos of our Jamaican forebears clutter the mantlepiece, the sideboard, the side table. He is a philosopher. He is a mathematician. He is a revolutionary. I adore him.
It was about four years ago I last saw my father here, standing on the front step of his brother’s flat. Four years ago, give or take, you know how I am with chronology, how the oiled fingers of time slip through mine when I try to hold on to them and remember. I hadn’t spoken with him in over ten years and suddenly we were thrown together for two brief days. It was so strange, so difficult. I hardly spoke. I smiled and nodded my head a lot. I drank a lot. Too much. And soon it was over and I left that flat and never saw him again.
He sees me to the door. I turn to him but don’t really know what to do.
Driving past the house yesterday, the car crawled up the steep road towards the T-junction.
He wraps his arms around me and holds me. In this moment his embrace is all there is, all there needs to be.
From the passenger window I watched the small details of lives slip by: the neat potted bushes, the faded, wooden chairs on balconies, the doors painted shiny red and black and green and blue.
I close my eyes and breathe him in. He smells just as he always did, of his tweed jacket and that aftershave. I hold on to him.
Scaffolding all the way up one of the buildings. The house was being painted bright white.
And then I let him go. I let him go.
The car passed the house, moving further into the road to avoid a cat skulking near the curb.
I walk down the short path to the street and turn at the end. There he is, standing on the front step. His hair has been neatly afro-picked and parted on one side. His hands are in his jacket pockets.
Coming to the end of the road the car slowed and stopped until the traffic had passed. The radio was playing.
I raise my hand towards him. He does not wave goodbye. His hands stay in his pockets. His eyebrows are drawn together and he looks confused, as if he does not understand what is happening. I know his heart is breaking.
The car turned the corner. I looked back at the house but it was already hidden behind other faceless buildings that meant nothing to me but have as many stories to tell as I do.
I try not to think about his troubled heart, his ravaged mind, his sadness. I try hard for if I think about it the tears will come and I won’t be able to stop them, not now, not ever, so I smile and I wave and I turn and I walk away.
Bye, old man. Bye, dad.
So much loss. So many things lost and never found. So much love gone and more besides. So much love still here, now, but what good does it do?
Now I am losing again, losing something that was never mine, but every morning I wake and it hits me fresh. Days passing don’t lighten its blow. Not yet, I tell myself. Not yet. It will be better. Be brave.
So I try not to think about my sadness. I try hard for if I think about it the tears will come and I won’t be able to stop them, not now, not ever, so I smile into my pillow, but I am so tired and the tears do come and I cry silently in the dawn light in my warm bed, clinging to myself for I have nothing else to cling to and I am soft and open like a shucked oyster, like an exposed nerve, and I ache with a longing I can’t express.
I write it down but all these pretty words and all of my bold heart and all of the wide wide sea make no difference and I have nothing more to give you.
Here are my words. Here is my heart. This is all I have.
This is all.