Lying empty on the floor at my feet, the worn leather holdall is a thing of beauty, harking back to a time of artisanal labours of love, quality and long life. It conjures the image of a dog lying close by, one of protective companionship.
Beautiful as it is, it’s not an easy carry. When full, the narrow strap doesn’t feel robust enough to hold its weight and the handles although strong, require the arm to be held at an unnatural angle if one is to avoid bruising one’s calves, and I bruise easily. It is not suited to airline travel, and a seasoned bushwhacker might argue that it wouldn’t be useful on safari either, as dust and unwanted curious creatures may enter the gaps between the zip and beautiful side folds. Even when packing, ideally someone needs to hold it open whilst you load it up. So why the sentimentality? Why the unnecessary friction to reclaim it during the breakup of my marriage? I had in fact gifted to my husband, then insisted that because it had belonged to Spike, it was mine.
I’m woken by a loud knock at the door, it’s pre-dawn on a Sunday morning. I sit bolt upright and scream a single scream. I’ve no idea why. My husband gets up and goes to the door. I hear voices, him asking what’s going on and their insistence that they need to talk to me. I venture down the open wooden staircase that separates the lounge and dining room of our Victorian home. James turns, concerned at once for me, the situation and the sheerness of a simple but pretty cotton nightie and my naked body beneath. The nightie had belonged to my late mother. She’d passed on 14 months earlier and I’d kept it when Spike and I had packed up her home in Durban. James and I had married, two months ahead of our planned wedding so she could be part of our celebration and union. After beginning married life as a grieving wife, it had felt good to say to the bereavement counsellor two weeks earlier, that I could feel spring in the air, I could notice the world around me again.
I take myself immediately to the couch, perhaps for the modesty sitting might provide whilst also intuiting I’d not be stable on my feet. The two young policemen remain in the doorway, not wanting to intrude and to ensure a hasty getaway. They reconfirm who I am and ask me what car my brother drove. They say there’s been an accident. I hear myself: ‘Is he ok?”
Images of hospitals and injuries flash through my mind. More bedside care; the world I’ve been all too familiar with in the final months in the lives of both my parents.
“I’m afraid he didn’t make it.”
James, who is standing midway between the police at the door and me on the couch, rushes over exclaiming loudly “She’s lost all her family”, as he wraps his arms around me.
I feel numb, the words seemingly hanging midway in the air. If I could only keep them suspended there, then I’d not have to feel the full blow of their impact. Instead I imagine these two young policemen on duty at the station, almost at the end of their Saturday all night shift, receiving the call from their colleagues in the Franschhoek station, possibly even drawing straws as to who would go. Is this their first time? Did I make a lousy job, a little easier? I marvel at how quickly I’ve been informed. Learning only later that the car windscreen had blown out, flinging the bag on the passenger seat out of the vehicle as it flipped on it’s head and caught alight. Spike, with a little Moleskin book that must have been fairly new, had listed me as his next-of-kin, address and all. If only he’d have been as thorough as to complete that will template I’d given him some months earlier and would find lying in its cellophane wrapper in his desk drawer in his office at the wine cellar.
I’m standing in my kitchen, preparing a spontaneous meal with my new, big love, sharing the spaces of uncertainty and anticipation ahead of this Life Righting Course I’m going on in the morning and these objects I need to take along…and I begin the story of the policemen at the door and my voice cracks all over again, tears prick my eyes and we are both taken by surprise. Some hours later, after a beautiful evening I walk him to his car, a Land Rover, and am reminded for the first time in decades of the awful fights with the man in KZN over the Land Rover Spike had bought, had customized and not yet taken delivery of at the time of his death. Me, screeching in desperation at the hole ripped right through me by the thought of journeying through life without my younger brother, accompanied instead by this worn, leather holdall…an awkward bag, so difficult to carry.