I have been away.
It wasn’t easy – nothing that takes three years to do is – but I finally made it: I got on a flight to Europe and came back.
The last time I was in Europe, I was married and my world seemed like a safe place. During our return flight on 6 February 2015, my husband André passed away while we were flying over Brazzaville. And I became a widow. The memories of that day have haunted my attempts at flying for the past three years. I have managed – with more or less success – a few short local flights, but all attempts at the Big One had failed until now.
The occasion for trying to fly long distance again was of high importance: Miś, aka our mother, was celebrating her 70th birthday this month and all she wished for was to have both her children in the same room. For most mothers this is no problem whatsoever, but for our mother – with me living in South Africa and my brother’s itchy feet – the two of us in one room is a rare occurrence. She lives in Austria. The last time she was in the same room with both her children was in Cape Town three years ago when she was here to take care of me after André’s death. But she couldn’t stay here forever.
Miś bought a new house in Upper Austria almost two years ago, but until this month, I only saw it in photographs. I keep in touch via Skype and letters, but that precious thing – one another’s company – seemed impossible for such a long time because I feared getting on a plane for twelve hours. Before that fateful day in the beginning of 2015, I used to visit regularly, three or four times a year…
A kind travel agent in Cape Town explored all the possible routes for me and we settled on one which felt safest: Cape Town – Johannesburg – Munich. My family lives nearby, next to the border between Bavaria and Upper Austria. I wanted the long leg of the trip to take me directly to Miś, so that no matter what happened during the flight, I would land in her waiting arms, in her new home, where she sits every day at the table which used to stand in my kitchen when I still lived in Austria.
And now, finally, we sat there all together as a family and ate the traditional Sacher Torte and celebrated Miś’s 70th birthday for an entire week. It snowed. There was water. And my favourite beer, Uttendorfer. To welcome me, Miś prepared the special dish I always ask for when I visit. We spent a few days around her birthday – one of them was the anniversary of André’s death – in Bad Ischl. Thermal springs, a hike on the Katrin, the Zauner restaurant, and the ghosts of the imperial past lingering everywhere. The birthday dinner was a Hauben-delight.
We lit a candle for André and remembered.
During my visit, I had lots of coffee with Miś who is solely responsible for my addiction; had long chats with Krystian sitting next to him and not in front of a computer screen; saw old friends and knew exactly why they have always been so dear; in my mother’s attic, found the small green fork I used to eat with as a child; walked along my beloved Mattig; spoke German; sat quietly in my mother’s guest bed in the mornings when everyone else was still asleep and read Rehana Rossouw’s latest novel, New Times, set in Cape Town, in preparation for my interview with the author in March at the Woordfees in Stellenbosch. And no matter how glad I was to be back, to be able to celebrate this very special occasion with our mother, to have flown to Europe again, I knew two things. The first was that, most likely, my life would have been good and meaningful if I had never met André and moved to Cape Town to be with him, but it would have been nothing in comparison to what it became with him. The second was that even if he was no longer alive, I understood and felt – unequivocally – where I belonged, where my home was: in Cape Town.