Dad died. We erected a mountain of Purbeck stone, amid the monosyllabic slabs, an abstract monument to him. The photo mum picked was the last one we took. He looked already dead. I stare at the bird shit on its eroded edges. My legs took me here, unwilled. I run away to a marriage in London.
Mary did not have time to take pictures. She sat in London while they came with their machetes for hers. Her words echo: “It is nice to have a mother”. My Kurdish friend didn’t say: and “a Dad too”, but it was in her eyes. Gas came for the Kurds, no one had a camera, but we all knew it might happen at any moment. But what does that mean when it does. Their dead lie scattered in deeper tomes than we can comprehend, in places they can never find. Even our dead lie safer. In inner city clutter, one stone against the next, or in the older sections, suburban sprawl enough room for a coffin length. We know where they are, we know their bodies lie in one piece. Even their ashes are complete.
I hear my dad’s laughter; see my sister running after me. Her room a ward, her face so beautiful I measured others against it. Her arms, so strong they would beat me in arm wrestles have doubled in size. The last stages of MS and the small eyes still see more than I ever could. And still there is irony in her look when she answers the unasked question: how are you?
Mary would have sat and held each hand of each relative as they went. I can’t do that, I love my life more than my sister.
I came to talk to Tories. She laughs: “would……they…..talk……to…..you?” I came to talk to Tories. To say in my inadequate way that it has happened again and it is happening again. They all seemed to know, so that’s alright then. Then I met a survivor. She was safe in London and cannot forgive herself for that. Then I met a survivor. She was safe in London and cannot forgive herself for that. Somewhere there is a Sudanese mother.
Somewhere there is a Sudanese Father. Somewhere there is a Sudanese Brother. Somewhere there is a Sudanese Sister. They are lost. Mary does not know where they lie.
One day the plot beside my father’s mountain will be filled and the whole of my mother will lie beside my father and my sister. And I will no doubt come to Bournemouth then and talk to new Tories at new conferences with distinguished panellists. And afterwards, a Mary from Darfur will come up and say: “It is nice to know where your mother lies.” My father is dead. My sister is dead. But I know where the whole of their bodies will always lie.