Michael has been promising to visit Aunty Rose for some time now. Each year she hints that it might be her last, in spite of being a spritely 70 who still cooks and shops for herself. There’s a January special on KLM so Michael decides to bite the bullet and go.
“It’s all good Aunty,” he says down the crackly international line, “I’m coming to London to see you.”
But first there’s the conundrum of what to pack. Amber weather warnings have been issued for the weekend ahead. Michael pops down to a sun scorched mitumba market in his lunch break to find an overcoat and scarf. Items he has never had cause to buy before and can’t face trying on in the heat. “How cold can it actually be?” he asks himself.
The flight passes pleasantly enough, despite the burden of a shopping list issued by his wife just before leaving the house. On it is written; laptop, tablet, perfume, jackets for the kids, toys, a Sunday dress, oh and if there is time to nip to Tesco? Doesn’t Joyce know that Christmas is over?
There’s a sense of foreboding as passengers pile on layers before disembarking. Down jackets magically materialize, along with hats, wraps and scarves. Michael’s watch says 3.30 pm but it’s already dark. The baggage hall feels chilly as passengers pull luggage from the carousel, the sunshine of Nairobi left far behind.
“It’ll be freezing later tonight,” the Uber driver says. “Might even snow.”
Michael pulls his jacket collar close.
“You come from far?”
“Nairobi,” Michael answers, wondering at the sight of a jogger in reflective gear, pounding the pavement in the rain.
“Sunshine over there is it? Been a helluva winter over here.”
Aunty Rose pulls him into a wooly embrace as he navigates object-strewn side tables, sofas and armchairs trailing his large, empty suitcase. Every surface in the tiny terrace house is covered with items that could easily overturn; cast into an orange light from the glow of an electric heater pulled close to Aunty’s chair. There’s a stew bubbling on the stove and a travel-worn Michael is grateful to have arrived.
The following day, he wakes up at 4:00 am London time. Later, venturing down the narrow, carpeted stairs in search of a cup of tea, finds Aunty wrapped tightly in a floral dressing gown and slippers in the kitchen.
“Eh, it’s so good to see you Michael.” She says. “How you’ve grown my dear.” Michael feels about 12 years old and smiles. “Aunty, you must come back to Kenya. It’s warm there!” “
Ah, Michael, stop fussing. I have everything I need right here.”
At the mall, Michael is overwhelmed. Shops crammed with piles of goods on sale filled with people browsing and buying, balancing armfuls of clothing, juggling handbags, shopping bags, coats and take-away cups. Each shop is heated to sauna levels, so it’s on and off with the overcoat amid hot flushes of panic. Outside, something wet and cold called sleet is falling. The dawn had come slowly and the sky is still iron grey.
Michael left Aunty with her walker in the supermarket. She’s gamely picking up groceries, expertly navigating her way amid a hundred other shoppers. Michael feels a pang of guilt. Joyce’s list will have to wait. He finds Aunty and takes her off to the supermarket café where they find hot food and place it on sliding trays.
“Now isn’t this nice Michael,” says Aunty. “I’m so glad you came.”
Frances Woodhams is author of the blog: www.africaexpatwivesclub.com