“Please remain in your seat until the plane has landed and come to a full stop. We would like to thank you for flying with Air Mauritius and hope you enjoy your stay.”
I took a sideways glance at Eloise who was looking pensive and preoccupied. If only I could take back the lies I had told 10 years ago, maybe then Eloise could trust me again. Thoughts like that were futile though — the past could never be undone and we would have to live with it. WE would have to live with it, yes WE, not I. Why had I not considered the heartache this whole lie would cause all those years ago? The problem is once a lie is told it grows and manifests in your head until eventually even you believe it. Ten years, yes ten whole years this lie had been rooting itself like a cancer, growing and spreading undetected until it reached the surface and exploded into our lives with such devastation that I’m not sure our lives will ever be the same again.
“Well, we’re here, are you OK?” Eloise’s eyes remained focused on the Arrivals door that had now come into focus.
“Yes thanks.” She replied, eyes transfixed out of the window.
My job as a Travel Agent had served me well over the years and the discounts on travel were a real bonus but had I not had this job then my return here would not be so bitter-sweet.
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport hadn’t changed much in that time and after stepping out onto the tarmac, the cooling fans of the terminal were a welcome break from the 30°C blistering mid-day temperatures. Eloise stood quietly waiting for the man on Passport Control to beckon us over. Conversations between us had been fractious over the past few weeks. It was heartbreaking to see my warm hearted, cheerful teenager turn into a quiet, remote, almost cold daughter. They say times a healer though and hopefully we can get back to the way we were but it will take time.
Nerves have kicked in and as the taxi pulls away from the airport the familiar Banyan trees line the route. We are staying in a hotel just outside Port Louis but the midday traffic is horrendous so the journey takes longer than expected, adding to my stress. Eloise is still silent. I’m not sure if she is just taking in her surroundings or if the journey and impending situation is taking its toll. If I break the silence then her mood will have an effect on mine and I cant take that risk. The familiar sugar cane lined road comes into view and I know then we are close.
The Angsana Balaclava, the place it all began. I bear no ill feeling to the hotel after all the idylic surroundings, the fine food and hospitable hosts were the things that made this place feel like home. They are now the reason for my return, well not solely but definately a contributing factor.
“Welcome back Mrs Stapleford”, Keith’s welcome smile reassured me, ” and who is your lovely guest?”
“I’d like to introduce you to my daughter,Eloise.” Eloise smiled a shy smile that Keith reciprocated warmly.
“Lovely to meet you Eloise, please accept my warmest wishes to you and your mum whilst staying with us. Please take a seat and I will get Michelle to organise a neck massage for you both whilst we check you in.”
Eloise looked mystified. “A neck massage? And I’ve never heard of a female called Keith.”
“Just enjoy the massage it might relax you. As for Keith she has been here longer than I care to mention, she will look after us.”
Back in the taxi after a relaxing massage and a quick unpack of bags the tension was beginning to rise, I wasn’t sure if the sweat trickling down my neck was down to the heat or the stress that was unfolding. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the glint of the gold locket enveloped in Eloise’s hand, barely visible but for the few strands of rope chain cascading out of her clenched palm. I had given it to her on her sixth birthday, a day I shall never forget, at the time she barely understood the significance of it, how could she? But now she was about to.
Stepping out of the car onto La Chaussée, in Port Louis, the heat began to dry my throat almost making me cough. The hustle and bustle of the market with its bright coloured pashmina’s coupled with the pungent smell of the spices only made my throat dryer. Neither of us spoke as I gestured to a seat in the Jardins de la Compagnie. Once a community garden this area now housed Banyan trees, fountains and sculptures. There sat on the bench was Maxime, he hadn’t aged at all except the ravaged cheeky grin which now showed signs of stress and uncertainty.
“Hello Maxime, meet your daughter Eloise.” Eloise took a hesitant step forward. Her face searching his for what seemed like some sort of tell-tale sign as to her origins. Seeing him now there was no doubt as to her parentage, she had the same eyes and the same kink in her hair that I had encouraged as a baby with a hair slide. His eyes searching to see what her reaction was, terror and fear mixed with love and hope.
I had denied them the past sixteen years, how I now regret that. I knew there would be questions, lots of them that they both needed answering, but for the moment I stepped back into the shadows of the Banyan tree to lick my wounds.