“Ah, this one. It goes in the Special Drawer”.
My heart skipped a beat and I felt myself lose all colour. Miss Kabego, the receptionist, was referring to the special drawer where we filed all records of our HIV positive patients. The clinic had been hectic, and earlier that morning I had seen a pleasant Ugandan lady and given her a rabies vaccine. As I withdrew the needle, it had punctured my glove. It stabbed the palm of my hand, mixing our blood.
My mouth went very dry and I could feel adrenaline surge through my body. I must have seen from the file that she was HIV positive before I gave the vaccine, but banished the thought as I was so busy. The journey home through the chaotic traffic was a blur, my mind occupied wholly with “what if” scenarios. Rick came home an hour later to find me lying on our bed, pale and frightened, wondering what my future held.
“What on earth is wrong?” he asked. I explained what had happened, hardly able to speak I was so worried.
“Stop worrying! What are the chances of you contracting HIV from a needle stick injury? Let’s look into it. Why don’t you chat to Dick tomorrow about when you can be tested and given the all clear.”
I looked it up. One person from every 200 or so needlestick accidents becomes infected. I didn’t like those odds, though they were better than my initial guess. The following day I consulted Doctor Dick, who advised me to wait 3 months and test myself, followed by a confirmation test at 6 months. Could I bear to wait this long? What if the dice rolled against me? If I was HIV positive, how would this affect my marriage, my career? Was there even a life after that diagnosis? I felt I had a death threat hanging over me. I was petrified. Rick was incredibly reassuring and supporting and I loved him for his pragmatism.
Distraction arrived accidentally. My days were full anyway, with working at the surgery and studying my Sports Medicine course. On top of this, by mistake, I landed a new role – it landed me actually – which thrust me out of my (medical) comfort zone…
I was asked to attend a committee meeting at Entebbe Sailing Club, our very social (less sailing) club on the shores of Lake Victoria. The ESC was the centre piece of social life in expat Uganda. With no theatres, cinemas, and only 10 restaurants, the Expat community relied on our club for entertainment. I must have been so pre-occupied by the needlestick injury that I wasn’t paying attention and before I knew it I was voted in as Entertainments Secretary. I’m not exactly sure how it happened. One minute I was staring out of the window, the next I found the whole committee congratulating me. This role was full on: I was expected to organise a major social event every 6 weeks, pitching for sponsorship from big names like Pepsi, Coca Cola, DHL and British Airways. I had no idea where to start; after all, my training was in healing people, not entertaining them. I had never made a pitch in my life! The standard had been set high by my predecessor, who had just organised a kids’ Christmas party where Santa had paraglided in off the lake. I had my work cut out.
Added to this, Rick and I had visitors staying in quick succession over the next few months. I was engaged and distracted. Only when caught off guard, did the worry of my upcoming HIV test absorb my thoughts.
Our current visitors, Sara and Kevin, had been the first friends that Rick had met here, even before I had arrived. They were staying with us for their last three weeks in Kampala, having moved out of their house, before relocating back to the UK. We liked them immensely – they enjoyed the outdoors and exploring like us – so it was terrible timing that they were leaving us quite so soon. We had spent most of our weekends with them camping out at Entebbe Sailing Club, sleeping in the clubhouse amongst the cockroaches and rats.
On their last weekend, we had driven to a local orphanage, piled fifteen 10 year old orphans into our 4×4’s and taken them down the Entebbe peninsular to the Sailing Club. Under the warmth of the Ugandan sun we played. The day was jam-packed with ballgames, leapfrog, frisbee, running races and kite flying on the beach. We trooped up to the clubhouse for a huge beef stew that Sara had cooked, followed by a sunken cake offering from me and ice cream galore.This day will stay with me forever – these dear little children were so carefree, yet I couldn’t imagine how it must be to live even one day without a mother and father to love you. This has always struck such a chord with me: I who have had the most loving childhood imaginable, feel desperately sad for these children robbed of a normal loving family. I was impressed by how well mannered they were: lining up properly, sharing their food out, quietly passing the plates down the line, and without prompting clearing away and washing up. They then treated us to an impromptu concert. If you have never heard African children singing in harmony, you have missed a unique experience: they have natural rhythm and oodles of X-factor. These young children lined up and sang “Enjoy the communal life” purely, proudly and poignantly – they had been taught this song at their orphanage, where they slept 50 to a room. There was tribal dancing too. Dancing is an important part of African village life and is learnt from an early age; it shows. The feet stamp in one rhythm while the pelvis does incredible flips to another rhythm, like patting your head with one hand and rubbing circles on your tummy with another. It’s impossible to copy, in fact we look ridiculous when we try it. Of course, as in any African festive gathering, the whole show ended with much ululation, that high pitched warbling accomplished with quivering tongues against the roof of the mouth. It was the highlight of the day for me. It finished them off and we lifted the sleepy orphans back into our cars and drove them out to the village, down a rutted track lined with vegetable stalls and noisy drinking huts to their barebones home run by nuns. The brick building was the size of a warehouse, unfurnished – the children had little in the way of belongings apart from a bunk bed and a small locker each.
We left them all, happy and exhausted, and returned to make a campfire on the beach with sundowner beers. The sand was warm under our feet and the balmy evening wrapped around us like a blanket. Rick and I sat with Kevin and Sara around the fire, chatting contentedly, and watched as the sinking African sun put on a glorious show. The opening cast were all in pastels: a spread of pink- and lilac-tipped clouds fanned out over the lake, beckoning their reflections to follow suit. Hues of gold and violet emerged, while an amber sun descended gracefully midst it all and at the very last moment melted away. The horizon burnt in a final encore before darkness drifted over the remaining cinders.
We had been barbecuing and eating chicken, but as night fell, almost immediately a large swarm of lake flies chose our beach to invade. In the daytime these are incredible to watch – it looks like an ominous cloud approaching from across the lake, but before you know it, untold millions of lake flies are upon you, intruding in every nook and cranny, discarded wings and carnage everywhere. We had to escape back up to the clubhouse, hands over mouths, where we rushed to lock down all the windows. Tired out from sun, fresh air and orphans, we soon fell asleep on blowup mattresses, disturbed only when Rick woke in the night to find a rat scampering across his sleeping bag.
Emerging for a cooked breakfast on the shores of Lake Victoria for more sun, fishing and volleyball was blissful. The fishing was incredible. Lake Victoria was the size of Ireland with few fishermen, so the Nile Perch lived a good life and grew fat and happy. Sara and I were kayaking round the lakeshore and discovered a dozen otters feeding on fish on a little rocky island – such a humbling experience to witness this rare moment. The boys went out fishing, and to crown Kevin’s last trip out on the boat, he caught a huge Nile Perch of 55kg, which when hung up was 5 and a half feet long: taller than Sara. As the sun went down, we took it on our way back home to the orphanage and the nuns went wild (as wild as nuns do) with excitement – this one fish would feed them for a week. It was a good last outing for Sara and Kevin.
Their final mission was to say goodbye to one extraordinary young lad. Kalanzi was a 14 year old Ugandan, whose parents had been killed in the war during Idi Amin’s time. He had a serious heart condition from birth which meant that his growth was impaired and he looked about 10. He had been in and out of Nsambya hospital all his life. The hospital was run by the same order of nuns as the orphanage, many of whom were doctors and nurses, and they had taken pity on him when his parents were murdered. Hence he had become a permanent fixture, living at the hospital under the care of the Sisters. He was a bright boy and attended a basic boarding school nearby. Many Expats attended Mass at Nsambya hospital and through this Kalanzi became known to our community; he had a Godfather figure in a friend of ours called Andrew and they developed a close bond. Andrew, who travelled away frequently with work, had asked Sara if she could foster Kalanzi at the weekends in their home, as the hospital was no place for him to live now he was older. Through these weekend sojourns, Sara and Kevin had become very fond of Kalanzi and they were heavy-hearted indeed to be leaving him. They approached me to ask if we would take on his weekend fostering and I felt privileged beyond belief to be given this role. Little did I know quite how attached I would become to Kalanzi or how our journey would pan out. I did feel it was the start of something big for us both. Funny to think only a few months ago I had worried about how I would fill my time…
“Madam, Madam. There is a terephone corr for you upstairs. A Mr Perrin.” (Africans randomly muddle l’s and r’s in their English speech).
After three rip-roaring weeks hosting Sara and Kevin, we ended their stay on a high by throwing them a big party. With three days to go, rumours went round town that my hero was in Kampala researching for a novel he was writing. Michael Palin’s life is pretty enviable: acting with his mates on Monty Python; travelling the world and writing all about it; making television programmes and generally being nice. It was too good an opportunity to miss, so Rick popped an invite to our ‘Shorts and Shades’ party in his pigeonhole at the hotel. The day of the party, we had a houseful of friends helping to decorate and organise, when Mauda came wobbling down the stairs announcing the phone call.
The telephone was actually working – this took me by surprise. (It had been broken on our arrival and as we refused to bribe the phone company, it had taken 9 months to get repaired.) I was intrigued to know who Mr Perrin was. Breathless from taking two stairs at a time, I picked up the receiver.
“Oh hello. It’s Michael Palin here”. I nearly fell off the chair. Stay cool. Be calm, Kate. Be NORMAL. Be nice. Be FUNNY and interesting. The more you try the less it works. I emitted several interesting noises, none close to sounding like a word yet invented. Maybe he was being kind, as he then did most of the chatting and finished by offering his reluctant apologies for the party. He must have liked me though, because he told me so and promised to take us out for a drink before he left the country. Well, I’m still waiting for the call, though I saw him years later for a book signing in Staines of all places and told him off for standing me up. He was utterly charming of course, though his bodyguards stepped a little closer in “stalker alert” mode. I felt we bonded.
Imagine the hullabaloo when I flew downstairs and told the party helpers about my mystery caller. It was almost the highlight of the party, which incidentally was deemed the best one in a long time and certainly the last of many leaving parties for Sara and Kevin. They had been the darlings of the expat crowd and their joie de vivre would be truly missed.
The next morning, after dropping them off at the airport, we went onto the Sailing Club for a Sunday of fun and, rather incredibly, met our next new-best-friends-to-be. Sally and Dennis were a new couple from Zambia who also loved camping and were up for any adventures. Dennis worked for a Ugandan company farming roses. They were due to get married in six weeks and their move to Uganda was a new exciting start for them. But, they needed a house to rent immediately. The expat community really comes together at times like these and although everyone was dreadfully hungover from our party – all shades of green – we came up with lots of contacts to help them out. In the meantime, I insisted they move in with us until they had found a house. They felt hugely supported and well and truly welcomed into their new expat family.
Exit Sara and Kevin, enter Sally and Dennis. They moved in the following morning and their dog, Sabine, also joined the household, which was a joy as we had so missed our beautiful puppy since his accident the previous month.
At this time, I was working full-time at the British High Commission surgery, covering Doc Gibbons who was on holiday. Dick and I were chatting at the end of one morning surgery about my work permit which had at last arrived (only 6 months late), when a Ugandan aquarium businessman came in. He asked if he could install one of his fishtanks in our waiting room as an advertising gimmick. We thought this was a great idea – the waiting room was rather dull with nothing to look at but ancient magazines – and left him to set up. The following morning, we arrived at the surgery to find the waiting room full of water with lots of dead fish and the odd one flapping about. Dick and I spent the next half an hour wading around on our hands and knees trying to rescue the survivors, watched by all our patients including several pregnant women, a senior Diplomat and a High Court judge. We were so giggly that we ended up having to compose ourselves before we could start our morning surgeries. Henceforth, the fish tank was ditched and the ancient magazines re-instated.
The following Wednesday afternoon, I was on call covering a rugby game between our Heathens and their violent rivals, The Cobras. The game ended badly for a friend of ours, who incurred a neck injury. I was worried that he had subluxed one of his cervical vertebra – i.e. that one of the neck bones may have been partially displaced. This can be extremely dangerous if it presses on the spinal nerves, leading to possible paralysis. In UK sports matches, a neck injury patient is not allowed to move until a neck brace is fastened and he is professionally lifted onto a stretcher to be taken off for XRays. I was able to put a neck brace on my patient and have him carefully lifted into a four wheel drive vehicle, but the route was a dirt road and very bumpy. I spent the journey begging the driver to slow down whilst desperately trying to support and reassure our friend. When we arrived at the hospital, there was no Xray available – broken machine, not enough staff – and I waited with him all night until I could hand him over to an Orthopaedic Specialist in the morning.
I returned home jaded, early on Thursday morning, to a wonderful story from Dennis which had me chuckling over my coffee and Alpen. The shamba boy (gardener) for Hamish next door had been having a bonfire in their back garden too close to our hedge and it had caught fire. Luckily Dennis was in our house and came running out as the lounge filled with smoke. Just as he stood on our side of the hedge, the shamba boy threw a huge bucketful of water at the hedge completely soaking our mate. Sodden, he moved as the shamba boy did and got drenched with a second bucketful. The same thing happened a third time by which Dennis was wet through and swearing profusely in Dutch. Thankfully, the hedge survived.
Sally and Dennis were tweaking last minute plans for their Zambian wedding. I had been tied up and stressed (yet happily distracted from the you-know-what-test coming up) as I was organising my first social event for the Sailing Club in a weeks’ time. It was to be the Mud Olympics. This was a major date in everyone’s diaries, a much talked about highlight of the social calendar. A large pitch-sized trough had been dug into the grass abutting the beach and a waist-high bar was erected across it. Every day the groundsmen filled the trough with water from the lake rendering it gloopy and muddy. The idea was that teams volunteered to enter various races from three legged, egg and spoon to sack race with the metal bar as an extra barrier – you get the idea. I had presented my first pitch and won Pepsi as the main sponsor; I was pleased as all the profits would go towards the orphanage. I felt on top of all the plans and just needed one more week to water the pitch until it was ready for action.
All of a sudden a more important day was upon me. Three months had passed and it was time to take the HIV test. I didn’t tell a soul, not even Rick. I waited until the end of afternoon surgery when all the patients had gone home. We had recently started using a diagnostic kit for HIV testing – like pregnancy tests – where you could tell in three minutes which it was: positive or negative, by whether the solution went cloudy or not. I stood in my lab and read the instructions three times to confirm which meant negative and pricked my finger. I then had to squeeze a blood droplet into a small well. The problem was that my hand was shaking so much that my aim wasn’t good. At this moment Dick walked in.
“What’s up Kate?” He was gentle, he knew what I was doing.
“Would you like some help there?” And with that he held my hand firmly over the testing well and squeezed my finger until a droplet of blood hit the mark. We stood over the strip watching for three minutes. Dick was very kind and chatted about nothing in particular to pass the time. The longest three minutes of my life. It ended with a wonderful result! Absolute relief flooded through me and I jumped up and down hugging my colleague and great friend in gratitude for seeing me through what felt like a crossroads in my life.
I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Rick the good news. It was Friday night and we were due out to Sally’s Hen party and Dennis’s Stag night, so, high on relief, we had double cause to celebrate. It was a hilarious evening. The boys and girls went their separate ways with plans to meet up at Pulsations, the new nightclub in town. Unbeknown to Sally and me, her other friends had organised for a fellow British guy to do a strip tease – all in good humour – down to his Y-fronts. Al Vincent was a well-known character in the expat circle: he was a handsome man with a good physique, and happy to oblige with a glimpse every so often: the Hen party was no exception.
We were gathered as a gaggle of girls outside a streetside bar playing the usual Hen party games. We were in the party street of Kabalagala: people were milling around, music was blaring from different bars and the food vendors were cooking chicken over oil drum BBQs. Sally had been forced to dress as Cat Woman and was carrying it off nicely – she was a pretty girl with a wicked sparkle in her eyes. It was crowded, being Friday night. Suddenly The Stripper music started playing loudly on the bar speakers and Al emerged writhing around and playing up his role. He advanced on Sally. Off came the shirt, to whoops from all the girls. Off came the trousers, to nervous laughter from Sally as he gyrated closer and closer in only his home-made G string. So far, so funny…but surely not…Al was reaching for his last remaining garment and off came the G string! – to gasps of horror from us girls, and fifty or so innocent onlookers. That wasn’t the plan at all, but Al didn’t care in the slightest. Having embarrassed Sally no end with his antics, he finished to great hilarity by parading around the crowded bar completely naked.
This was all harmless fun. Al was one of those people who never failed to surprise. Sometimes, you just thought “I didn’t expect that” like the time we were at the beach and spotted a dot right out on the horizon of Lake Victoria. As the dot got closer and larger, we realised it was someone swimming – literally miles out – and when he finally emerged from the Lake it was Al, wearing a cute pair of speedos. We know not where he had come from or why, but by goodness, he must have been fit, and brave: the previous week an 8 foot sea-snake had been seen swimming alongside the catamaran. Other times, you thought “That’s weird, but what the hell” like the time he organised “Ballet in a Boxing Ring”. It was such a mad idea, we felt compelled to attend. It was a black tie dinner around a boxing ring, with either a three-round bout of boxing or a ballet performance between each course. OK, so the main course didn’t appear till gone midnight, but it was a fun night and for a good cause. The rest of the time it was a bit like watching Al’s very own soap opera. Kevin had passed him on the Entebbe road a few weeks back on crutches; apparently he had visited an office on a debt-collecting spree (a common way to pass the time in Kampala) to be told the boss was out. A tad annoyed, he threw their computer out of a three-storey window. The printer landed on his foot. Al’s antics provided us with great entertainment throughout our time in Kampala, and the expat crowd were fond indeed of our resident stand-up-with-a-sixpack.
Sally and Dennis left for Zambia and we had a short interlude – or so I thought – with no visitors before my Mum came to stay. Looming large on the social horizon were the Mud Olympics. With a week to go all the sponsorship was in place; two days to go the pit had been churned and was wonderfully waterlogged with knee deep mud…and the day before the last hammering of nails was complete on a new outside bar. Sunday dawned, a beautiful blue sky day. Eleven teams of eight people had entered and we got – literally – stuck in. Races included wheelbarrow, front crawl and piggy back with competitors looking ridiculous, covered in mud with the whites of their eyes and teeth standing out. As soon as the race was over the contestants would run down to the lake for a swim to wash it all off before diving back into the mud-pit for the next race. It was hard work ploughing through the mud, so great physical exercise. At the end of a mud-glorious-mud day, I stood on a chair in the clubhouse to announce the winners and thank Pepsi, feeling very proud of my first event. Indeed, Rick wrote in his diary that night “Probably one of our best days in Kampala”.
The phone rang – always a big surprise.
“Hello Kate. You don’t actually know me, but you went to school with my brother. I’m arriving in Kampala tomorrow. Could I come and stay for a couple of nights?”
The following day, Rick drove to The Fairway, a two star hotel downtown, to find him being pestered by a local prostitute. I don’t think she honestly believed he was interested – he had his suitcase and was clearly waiting for someone – more likely she was using her position to enjoy the company of a good-looking foreigner. You couldn’t fault the Ugandans for their opportunism and optimism! We teased him relentlessly about his new friend and he took it in good humour. This turned out to be typical of Ed: he was a laid back guy and had no qualms about talking to anyone, anywhere. This was just as well as he ended up staying with us for a few weeks, and had to put up with me being not at my best. I couldn’t hit the nail on the head, but around this time I started being irritable. This was nothing to do with Ed, who was very easy company to have around; but Uganda could be very frustrating, simple things went wrong and it took ages to get to the bottom of what was really going on. Sometimes the frustrations just built up and then it was difficult to be the perfect hostess after a full day’s work.
For instance, James the night guard failed to show up for work, and sent a note to say he had come off his bike. I offered to pay him a visit, but Fabian said
“He has shifted”
This is Fabian-ish for “He’s moved house”. Intriguing.
James didn’t show up for work for a week. After a little further investigating, I discovered that there was no bike accident or ‘shifting’, but that he was working two jobs moonlighting. Surely he must have realised he would be found out? I gave him a stern talking to and a strong letter of warning that if this happens again he will lose his job.
As a backup we had a security company who sent armed guards when the alarm was activated. One night in James’s absence, Rick was away on business and Ed had stayed out with a friend. I woke around 3am to feel the room shaking. It was most disconcerting, being woken alone in the house, to find the bed and all the furniture moving and the overhead lights swaying. It took a while to realise what was happening, but as I surfaced I realised it must be an earthquake. It was over before I knew it, but by now most alarms in the neighbourhood were sounding out, ours included. Knowing the guards would arrive within ten minutes, I threw on a dressing gown. As soon as I heard the truck screaming down the lane, I unbarred the house doors and went out into the night, with the dog as protection, to unpadlock the security gate. Two armed guards entered and we stood outside the staff quarters talking. It was immediately clear they were not interested in my safety. They were drunk, swaying on their feet with bloodshot eyes, and badgering me for cigarettes I didn’t have. Surely they realised I was not in the mood to do them a favour? Then, one of them shouldered his AK47… and it went off, cracking a bullet into the air two feet above my head! I went ballistic. I was scared and angry at his incompetence. He just smiled and said casually,
“Aaah. Do not worry, madam! This one, it has a mechanical problem”
Like that helped. Thirty degrees lower and the bullet would have been through my grumpy little head. He was dismissed with Tweedledum for the night and I went back to bed, padlocking as I went until I had retreated to the safety of our upstairs locked cage. The following morning, Mauda, who slept the other side of the wall from where we had been standing, claimed she slept through the entire episode: earthquake, gunshot and all; and I believed her. It transpired the centre of the earthquake had been in Fort Portal on the Congolese border and several buildings in Kampala had collapsed. We got off lightly.
Finding good quality meat in Kampala was a problem – most butchers traded out of open, roadside kiosks displaying a couple of hanging meat carcasses, buzzing with flies and not very palatable. However, I had found a good German butcher nearby which later that week I visited, only to find it all boarded up. There is never a lack of people around in Africa to bring you up to speed. The German guy who owned the butcher shop also ran a restaurant called the Red Bull down the road. The previous night at 11pm, four armed masked men walked into the restaurant and assassinated him at point blank range. There was no explanation as to why, though we later learnt he was wanted by the German police and had likely crossed someone he shouldn’t have here in Kampala.
All these events conspired to make me crotchety, where normally I would have taken it in my stride. I endeavoured to find out why.
I was busy at work as the surgery filled up with bilharzia patients over the next few weeks. Bilharzia is a parasitic tropical infestation which presents with lethargy, muscle aches and, in some cases, fever. It is picked up in water habituated by freshwater snails who host the parasitic worm. Serious liver problems ensue if untreated. In the 1970’s treatment involved hospital admission and intravenous drugs which caused hallucinations and in fact my Dad was subjected to this after years in Zambia and recalled that it was most unpleasant. Luckily these days, a 5 day course of tablets does the job nicely. It occurred to me that this could be the reason for my tetchiness. As the blood test was expensive and not always reliable, we tended to treat on a clinical picture, so I took the tablets anyway and waited to see how I felt. I got to pondering why we were having such a deluge of bilharzia patients, and with a pang of guilt, the penny dropped: the incubation period for bilharzia is 1-3 weeks. Two weeks ago was my debut Mud Olympics Event. I realised with embarrassment that ninety competitors had been exposed to the parasite, not only from swimming in the lake, but from the mud itself, which had been lovingly cultivated over several weeks from snail-infested lake water. I felt dreadfully responsible, though consoled myself that they were all Entebbe Sailing Club members who were urged anyway to take bilharzia treatment yearly as a precaution: I had just been drumming up a nice bit of business for the surgery.
I felt a little better, but still not 100%. I had taken on a second job at another clinic 3 sessions a week, and was still studying my Sports medicine course, so what with all the visitors and my Social Secretary responsibilities I had a lot on, but this didn’t quite explain things. I latched on to another train of thought: it was possible I was a couple of weeks late – this would certainly explain my mood swings. Gulp! This was potentially big news. Life had been so hectic that it simply hadn’t crossed my mind that I could be pregnant. Heart aflutter, I did a home pregnancy test. It was negative. I repeated it for the following three days: all negative. Maybe I was barking up the wrong tree after all? Now I didn’t know WHAT to think. Or FEEL. My emotions were all over the place. I said nothing to Rick, as finding the right time was difficult while Ed was staying, and I resolved to leave it over the weekend. I would ask Dick to run a proper lab pregnancy test on Monday.
After the last patient on Monday afternoon, there was a knock at the door and Christopher, the surgery errand boy, handed me a folded piece of paper and left. I opened it and in Dick’s writing, on surgery headed note paper, this is what I read:
“There once was a girl called Kate
who thought she was two weeks late
A urine test
put her mind at rest.
She’s up the spout! Celebrate!
(Thank goodness she works in the afternoons! Don’t want her puking all over my desk!)”
I was overjoyed and excited all at once. I ran through to Dick’s consulting room and landed him a smacker on the cheek for imparting such wonderful news in such a Dick-like way. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Rick the lab result – for the second time in a month – but this time a positive result hit the jackpot. As luck would have it, Ed had left to house-sit for friends as my Mum was arriving the next day, so Rick and I had the evening to ourselves – a rarity. We had already planned to have a romantic meal in, to celebrate twelve years since we starting going out: our first date was at Worcester Rugby Club Disco, back when I was sweet sixteen.
I waited until Rick was settled down on the verandah, then delivered the surprise news. To begin with, I didn’t quite get the textbook husband reaction I was hoping for. His jaw dropped, he stared for a long time at me speechless, and then said,
“Well, that’s put the cat amongst the pigeons”.
Sometimes, you can almost see someone’s thought process and this was one of those moments. His stunned mind whirred and jarred like this:
“What? What? Help!” quake, shake
“What about all our plans for travelling after the contract?” clunk, jolt
“Me? A Father? The responsibility!” jitter, flitter
“The end of an era…but…” quiver, flutter
… “We’re having a baby?!”
“Imagine Mum’s face when I tell her!”
And then the excitement kicked in and there was lots of planning as the idea of having a family intoxicated us. We realised that the first two months of my pregnancy had not been entirely ideal: running flat out on two jobs; socialising almost every night with large quantities of gin and beer; hosting guests non-stop; battling errant night guards, dodging bullets in the night; and playing Russian roulette with HIV, bilharzia treatment and all the rest. But we were banishing anxious thoughts tonight and were swept away with excited talk of starting a family and what the future held for us and this little person growing inside of me.
Mum arrived the next day – I had been looking forward to this day for a long time – and her face was an absolute picture when we broke the news to her. A watershed moment indeed.
Our lives were about to change forever: the cat was most certainly now amongst the pigeons.