The box is nearly full. Straightening up, I glanced around, looking for anything I missed. It's all here: your glasses, watch, empty wallet, shaving gear, a belt that somehow hadn't been taken with the rest... it seems surprisingly little. I stand still, suddenly aware of sounds travelling up from downstairs. I probably should have been down there ages ago, but I don't move. Instead I anxiously look around again, seeking a distraction, an escape, before reality can penetrate completely. It's the letters that catch my eye; the gleaming gold "PHOTO ALBUM" reflecting the sunlight. I stare for a second, hesitating, then take it off the shelf. The worn red leather is rough and heavy in my hands.
The first is a baby photo, you're perhaps a week old. You sleep with your fists clenched, eyes squeezed tightly shut. A Winnie the Pooh dummy has fallen out ofyour mouth, forming a damp spot on the pillow. "First night in own cot!" reads the inscription below.
Three pages further and you have a fierce frown, flying down a short tar driveway. Eyes wide, mouth open and blonde curls flying, you grip your first bicycle's handlebars tightly, your legs kicked out high above the safety wheels. A red superman cape streams behind you: party hats and cups litter the background. A woman in a floral skirt bends over to pick them up, her back to the camera.
The Matric dance and my entrance. It's the only photo I agreed to that night. The bright light shines on us, you with your tailor-made tux, easy smile and those tussled curls. I smiled timidly in my homespun dress and borrowed high heels, trying to look confident. The jewel-coloured fabrics draping the surroundings seem to enclose us into a perfect portrait.
A wedding photo, taken from a distance without us realizing it. It's late in the evening already, my satin dress gleams faintly in the darkness. Your outline blends into the lake behind us. I lean with my head against your chest, your hand is about to touch my hair.
There we are in Park Town maternity clinic. A nurse must have taken the picture - idiotic but proud and excited smiles shape both our faces. Between us, only a small arm manages to push its way through the swaddle of blankets, reaching up its tiny fingers.
The last page, again in hospital. No smiles now, no matter how hard you tried. The fluorescent light reflects off your bald head, your sunken eyes stare despondently at the camera. Next to you are drawings of stick figures in bright pastel colours. It comes back to me now, the smell of the disinfectant, the sound of crying children and chatting nurses, the machine's endless beep beep beep...
The album falls through my shaking hands to land with a thud on the floor. I stare hard at it, aware that the picture is beginning to blur. From downstairs the sound of murmured voices and clinking glass drifts up to me, surrounds me, breaking through the haze, forcing me to listen. I rush through the glass doors onto the veranda, gasping the fresh sea air. It cools the tears on my face.
His footsteps are so light that I not realise he is there until a small warm hand slips into mine.
"Mommy?" Anxious grey eyes stare up at me from under a mop of tussled blonde hair.
"Mommy, Ouma says it's time to come down now."
For a second, I stare across the street to the constant rolling waves of the ocean.
"It's alright, honey. I'm coming."
I let him lead me back into the room and downstairs. When we enter, I smile.