Fallow, russet hillsides and spiny chunks of flora garnish the aggro cityscape. The taxi merges without indicating, a dodge-em car at a country fair. Aunty Nathalie speaks Mauritian-Creole to the driver – the jauntiest linguistics, a bristling melody that I crave as a cure for Western ills. The entire culture adjourns in my brain, as it often does – another well-kept secret.
Nathalie’s phone shrieks. She doesn’t answer. If she does, she’ll have to find a bank and fork out money for our relatives. None of our relos want to hear about first-world problems. Or especially the term first-world. I hate it too, usually reaching for the developing world placation – unfinished, not entrenched. My undeniable Anglo heritage, my education, is at once irrelevant yet vital, shattering old conveniences and schoolyard jeers of ‘Racist!’ The first world is the problem. Nathalie is Australian. She must share her wealth. She is family.
‘Catholic guilt, Third-World-style.’ says Matilda, my sister, ignoring Nathalie’s pointed glare.
Nathalie doesn’t know if her VISA card is operational. Uncle Clement still hasn’t phoned to advise. Time zone? Exorbitant rates? Nathalie shrugs. We’ve only got enough cash to last the day. She is alien in another land, her home country, on her return thirty-five years later.
The driver’s road-raging matches his oration as we head inland. His body odour is thick, oppressive, but comforting. Human. I strain to hear his English. Apartheid South Africa. Blood spilled? His father’s blood? His blood? Johannesburg? Daughter, very sick. No…Well, yes, but it is unconnected. Cannot hold food, spilling her innards. House, two-bedroom. Stink of vomit. He take us all museums and factories. He know people.
The driver stalks us at a polite distance from the heat of the taxi downstairs, sans air-conditioning and sea breeze, ignoring our preferred arrangement – leaving with another driver. The restaurant’s ceiling fan cools our sweat. Aunty Nathalie cries into her ginger ale and knocks it over, staining the white tablecloth a healthy brown. Matilda and I ask the waitstaff for serviettes or tissues. Our request is met with fluent English and stacks of both serviettes and tissues. The driver reminds Nathalie of my mother and grandfather working multiple jobs: fisherman; seamstress; factory-hand; shop-assistant; housekeeper; teacher. Spine-warping labour. That’s the upsetting part, she recalls: feigning distance from the present, from the driver.
Nathalie flinches as her phone rings. She dabs her nose and answers. It’s Marie-Louise, our great-aunty, Papa’s little sister. Matilda and I grin at each other, just for a moment. She is one of three siblings still alive on the island. Three out of nine ain’t bad. The six in Australia found wealth but long since halted return flow.
Hotel? Does she need the address? Do we have it? Not necessary. They’ve found us. They are on their way. Nathalie is exposed already. Papa’s Australian affairs, debts of love and money, are no secret either. Family stories, even those not imparted or understood in completion, always seem to spread as swift and as fluid as spillage.