I stood at one end of the passage, and remembered. Remembered walking carefully along the passage, not letting the carpets make me skip, not scuffing the floor. on each side a bedroom, then another, the divider , then more bedrooms. In the mornings the sun had come in through one side, in the afternoons the other side received the sun. No rooms ever escaped it, at least not in the bedroom wing. The formal reception rooms were different, they faced so that the sun never came in directly; protecting the furniture and those heavy curtains.
Our home, when I was a child. When I was very small we lived in a wooden house, in the woods. It was always damp, even though it was warm and snug. My mother had this cough, and she was always ‘not well’. My little brother was taken care of by a cousin, Marthe; a young woman who loved him dearly.
Then we were going on a great adventure. Off to Africa; German South West Africa to be exact.
My farther had gone ahead; he had a position on a mine. When we arrived on a ship, he met us. What a strange country. None of the lush green landscape we knew, but a harsh bare countryside.
We stayed for a few days in a boarding house, while my mother recovered her strength for the overland trip to where we would be living.
I was so surprised when we got there. No trees, or nothing such as we were accustomed to back home. There was one tree, a palm tree. The garden was sand. Just sand. When we played outside Marthe would come running with our sun hats, worried over our pale skin in the hot African sun.
I loved the bedroom section of the house. Mornings the sun would start to creep into my bedroom. I would be woken by the fingers of light, brushing my consciousness, stirring me to wakefulness. I would sneak out of my bed, and tiptoe barefoot out into the passage. Snores from the adult members of the family would reassure me that the passage was mine for a while.
Some mornings I would go and stare at the photographs of family members hung along the passage. Those sepia coloured photos, each seeming mysterious. The people so solemn, looking important.
I had a game, imagining their lives. The young man photographed in military uniform, quite splendid. He was a Prince who would be destined for heroic deeds, making our country great. The older man, bearded and solemn, standing behind a woman who was wearing black. He was a magician, I was sure. He would conjure doves to fly from the top hat he held so stiffly. I had never seen a magician, but Marthe has a book she read to us, in which there was a magician who could do so many amazing things. The woman, well I was sure she had an interesting story. Maybe she had been a beautiful young woman of fashion, attracting every eligible man, but she had fallen in love with the magician.
And now here I was, part of a senior citizens visit to Africa. We had selected the desert trip as one of our excursions. I got down from the Landover and felt a little giddy when I realised this was the house. The others explored the stone garden, and the outhouses. I walked straight inside and down the passage to the wall at the end. My bedroom on my right, the morning light still coming through. I imagined the floor, carpeted as it used to be, but what deadened my footsteps was sand. Fine desert sand. My father would never have allowed even the smallest particles of desert sand to stay here. But then he has been dead for more than 50 years. I wonder what happened to those family photographs that had been on the walls there.
I walked to the end of the passage, turned and looked. The ghost were there, myself a small girl, my little brother, learning to toddle up and down, Marthe holding his small hand. My mother and father, walking slowly from their bedroom, whence he would escort her to the formal room and then leave for work.
I took the picture, sure we would all be visble in it.
But when it came back from the printer, there it was, empty, layered in sand, the ceiling peeling almost as lichen does, organic decay.
When we drove away I was sure the house would disappear back into the desert sand.