Sunday, November 29, 2009

into ether: blood

He speaks of his father, my brothers' father. He tells me about travelling with his governess, Miss Cox. They are on the docks in Bombay, standing beside a ship. His father is there, and he is saying goodbye. It is only now that he realises what is happening, that he is being sent away. He remembers clutching on to his father's tie and crying, not wanting to let go. His father is upset, angry and keeps releasing his child's hands from the tie. This is the last time he will see him, the last memory of his father. He is five years old.

I found him on the internet. He was seventy-four and lived on the opposite side of the world. Had I not given in to some distracted googling that particular afternoon, we would never have known of his existence. You see I come from a family with its fair share of secrets, skeletons that have been living in some very old closets.

This is what it said:

July 28 2004: Jackie S. on behalf of her father Ian S. is looking for information about her fathers step brothers, Michael or Alexander and John S. Jackie's grandfather John Robertson Milne, an engineer, who moved to Darjeeling, India in the 1920's from Scotland with his cousin to become tea planters. Jackie's grandmothers name was Atyok. Her father was born Ian S. Oct 26th 1930. Atyok died soon after my father was born and my grandfather later married a lady who became Sylvia S. My grandfather died in India 1944/45 and Sylvia and the boys moved to Sydney, Australia in 1946/47. If anyone has information that will help Jackie get in touch with her Dad's stepbrothers please e-mail either Jackie or the editor ...

My mother was married twice. That's her, Sylvia. Her second husband was my father. Her first husband, John, was a tea planter in Darjeeling. They married when she was seventeen. By the time she was twenty, they had two sons, my half brothers. At twenty-two, she was a widow with two small boys.

In all the years that have passed, she has rarely mentioned her first marriage or her time living on the tea estate. It mostly remains a mystery. I have gleaned some fragments of her life then and I imagine it was a difficult time beyond the romance of 'the man I married took me to the roof of the world.' In the 1940's, it was remote and a long way from her family in Calcutta. The final ascent to the bungalow where they lived was down a hillside, across a stream and up the other side on horseback. She once told me there were wild otters in the river, and that cardamom trees grew along the hillside.

I visited Darjeeling with her a few years ago. Her first time back in sixty years. One afternoon I came back to our hotel room. I heard her singing a Tibetan nursery rhyme with an elderly woman who was making the bed. I'm straying though, hers is another story.

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