The old colonial bungalow sat in the deep lush topical garden. High in the hills outside the sleepy capital city that lay in the deep palm lined bay of the big sea. The house was surrounded by a cool wide verandah, and the roof hung low and cast welcome shade on the smooth, well-worn terrazzo floors.
The verandah was littered with heavy old wooden plantation chairs, stained a deep tannic brown, but comfortable looking and welcoming. Each plantation chair had a small wooden table next to it, and the wood on top of each table had deep circular stains.
Stains from many a late evening (or early morning) cocktail, or beer. Each table had a brass ash tray on it, and each ash tray had the initials “rJh” carved deeply in cursive.
Outside there was the garden. Lush, almost overgrown, and rambling. Alive with the cacophony of bird song and splashes of vivacious colour. There was a large pale green lizard resting on the railing of the balcony. In that in between place of cool shade and gentle heat.
I could smell the house through the sliding doors. It reeked of cooking, of rum, and of sweat, and faintly of my fathers’ cologne. 4711. Still for sale in retail stores globally. But generally unknown of today. Except to the elite few. The old people. Yesterdays’ youth. This was the scent of the past. Bottled nostalgia. It smelt clean and simple and old. Like soft, well-worn white sheets that had been crisply sun dried.
I could smell the books too. I could almost read them through my nose…..Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Thom Wolfe, William Boyd, Wilbur Smith, Ian Flemming, they added a papery layer to the mix of 4711, rum, leather and cigars. It was a familiar aroma. Comforting and rich. It hadn’t changed since my boyhood.
I dropped my canvas duffel and walked through the open sliding doors into my fathers’ study. The house had been opened to air out. I sat at his desk. It was littered with his notes, in his signature brown ink. On the desk was his fountain pen. Still open, the black cap set with the almost glowing Mont Blanc logo, laying nearby. Next to it, the old Heuer Carrera chronometer he had worn since my boyhood.
I looked at it for a little while and remembered the black and white pictures of him holding me as an infant, white T-shirt, Aviator Sunglasses, strong arms, and the large barrel shaped Heuer Chronograph strapped on his wrist. Prominent wrist presence.
Its face was sun bleached, and faded, and it had stopped ticking. I picked it up and felt its weight in my hand. Then I shook it gently from side to side, and felt it whir into life. I pulled the crown that was situated on the reverse side of the watch (circa 1969), and set the date and the time. Then I slipped off the old Rolex GMT he had randomly given me years ago, another watch from his collection, and slipped on the Heuer.
It felt heavy on my wrist, but the black perforated racing band was soft and pliable from years of wear. It smelt of him too. Of sweat, and cologne.
An image flashed through my mind, of the old Heuer on his wrist as he piloted a McDonell Douglas DC10 aircraft in on its final approach to a dusty runway somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. I remembered his voice too. Curt. Detached. Calm. Languidly in command…..’Whiskey Tango 800 we have a visual of the runway. Final approach…..”
I was a little boy sitting in the jump seat. The image was of the watch on his wrist, and his left hand on the yoke, gently moving it, adjusting the aircraft constantly. Precisely. It’s one of those images I have carried around in my mind. Now I was wearing the watch. The torch had been passed. My watch.
I got up and walked across the study to the trolley bar and poured two generous fingers of scotch. Then I walked back and sat down and stared at the wide wooden bureau, and the paperwork that lay on it. Scattered notes. Idle thoughts… scribbled hopes and aspirations, technical notes, always meticulous and detailed. Clearly written and articulate.
I leaned back in the old leather chair and rolled a cigarette. My special mix of pipe tobacco, cinnamon and cloves. Then I took a swig of scotch, lit the cigarette, with an old heavy lighter on the desk and inhaled the aromatic tobacco deeply. All the time staring at the bust of a Kudu, with dark, tall, spiraling horns hanging on the wall that I remember him shooting on a hunting expedition in east Africa years ago.
I was home. Sitting at my father’s desk. Wearing his watch, drinking his scotch.
Outside the sun was setting. Pale orange shafts of twilight flooded the study, and a mosquito droned by my ear. I looked at the watch, leaned deeply back in the chair, exhaled a long plume of blue smoke and watched it curl and slowly diffuse in the softly orange light of the evening.
I was home.
Tonight I would drink. I would drink and smoke and write. Then I would sleep. Sleep that deep alcohol induced sleep, the sort of sleep that you woke up stunned to be alive from. Then I would nurse myself through the new day and its formalities. I would start my life again.
I placed my phone one the desk and walked over to the bar for more scotch.
As I walked, I listened to my footsteps as they rang out on the cold terrazzo floor. Dusk had come quickly as it always does out here.
The scotch was smooth and burningly warm in my belly. I rolled another cigarette, lit it, inhaled deeply and sighed. I hadn’t smoked for a while but I had packed the tobacco along just in case. It had been a good thing to do.
I reached over and turned on the brass desk lamp with its glass green lampshade. An old lamp I remembered from when I was a boy. The night outside was already a tropical purple-blue, and already I could hear the bats and their piercing high pitched barking as they began their nightly hunt for insects.
The birdsong had subsided, and in the absence of colour, I was aware of the sweetish scent that came from the garden, the clean scent of night blossoms, rotting papaya, and overripe Mangoes.
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