I saw two ships come chugging in, and from the other side of Gallow’s Bay I can hear the busyness of wharf labourers as they unload cargo. Along with the sound of forklifts and clatters comes laughter, caught on the wind and rippled across the water, at the moment reflecting the overcast sky rather than the usual aquamarine.
One ship, the smaller one, I think is a ferry moving people rather than goods between the islands, and as I watch the activity I am reminded that once again I have a foot in two camps. Not actually between places and people, unlike the passengers from the ferry who for a brief interval were in limbo, neither in one place nor the other.
It is a position I am comfortable in, having spent my life never entirely belonging to any one tribe. Never wholly British, or Australian, or indeed now American. Two of my cousins are known as ‘belongers’ due to having been born and bred in the British Virgin Islands. They both have travelled the world but their road always leads back to Tortola, where they do indeed belong, switching with ease between the local patois and the language of their birth. For me though, having had a nomadic childhood with educational stability offered through an Australian boarding school, it is the ability to slip in and out of many different circles, if not languages, that feeds my soul.
My melancholia today is instead coming from the scraps of paper I’m finding around this house on the hill. The scrawled notes, one a hardware store shopping list, another a reminder to phone someone, another a list of names – an invitation list maybe. In cupboards and drawers there are ragged-edged photographs of grandchildren and the previous chatelaine of this crumbling house; this I know because of the pencilled names just visible on the back, one being ‘grandma’. Lodged beside a chest I found a framed pastel of an aging couple; it is a naïve drawing and about to toss it on the skip quickly filling outside, I spotted the artist’s name. It matched one on the back of a photograph and I have kept it, in the hopes it can be returned to the artist.
The people from whom we purchased this home overlooking a now crystalline bay, the clouds having been scudded further west by the near constant trade winds, are the children of the original owners, both now dead. And yet there is no sense of unease as I sit here alone, just a sadness. Sadness that those same children, no longer children but my own age, did not attend their father’s funeral, and then when the sale of their parent’s home was imminent did not take these intimate reminders. Who knows what issues a family faces but snippets of a past life, a scrap of jaundiced newspaper dated not long after the war announcing the engagement of Janet to Eugene found in the bottom of a tool drawer, attest to a long love.
And isn’t that what allows us as expatriates, or travellers, to wander the world regardless of where our immediate family happens to be? The knowledge that someone, somewhere, cares and almost more importantly, cares enough to allow us the space to roam.
My husband and children are my bedrock but I do not need to be on the same bit of land as them to feel their love or support. We are currently spread around the world and yet their nearness is almost palpable, deep in the essence of me.
The ferry is leaving now and I hope those travelling, as they cross the seas and for a short while are in limbo, feel a sense of gratitude for the freedom given to venture beyond the limits of their tribe.