After landing, and collecting her luggage (one rucksack, that’s all), and after a twenty minute taxi ride, she found herself standing outside her old home. The little house on the hill looked the same as she remembered it. There was the green hedge, the bay window, and that little button set into the pillar beside the gate, which she pressed. She waited. Soon enough, that familiar silvery-grey door opened and her three children raced down the front path, and her mother stood firm in the doorway, buzzing her in. She pushed the gate open, and it almost swung into the smallest of the children as three pairs of arms and three scruffy heads pushed into her from all directions. Then, just as quickly, they disappeared under the rucksack, which now seemed to move by itself, the three of them hidden under its bulk as it levitated towards the living-room where it seemed destined to be opened and searched for presents.
“I didn’t bring them any presents,” she whispered in her mother’s ear as they embraced in the corridor, “I didn’t have time,” and her mother stroked her hair and patted her back and said “Of course you didn’t, and you weren’t meant to.” A pause, and then her mother broke away from the embrace, “Those children need to learn that returning travellers do not always bring back pretty presents.” They both walked down the corridor, past what was now a living-room mess of clothes, shoes and notebooks, past the three children who were busily unzipping smaller and smaller bags, and into the kitchen.
The children were told that their disappointment was of no consequence, that they needed to take all of the mess and tidy it up. They were to put all of the clothes in the washing machine to start with, but their mother said that it would probably be better to burn those stinky clothes. The children laughed and laughed at this, but their grandmother didn’t laugh. Their grandmother simply raised her eyebrows, only very slightly, and busied herself very carefully with kitchen work. She took out the vegetable soup from the fridge and heated it in a big pot, then she toasted the fresh sourdough bread she’d baked only yesterday. She had the eldest of the children set the table. “It’s lunchtime, and you should all remember that your mother has travelled very very far, for many many hours, and we all need to take care of her now.”
The children could feel that Grandma meant business, so they all got down to it, starting up a load of laundry, setting out the shoes to air in the sunny patch of the back garden, lining up the toiletries in the bathroom. Then the smallest one, Baby, came up to her with a pile of notebooks in his arms, “Where shall I put these Mama?” he asked so sweetly that both mother and grandmother looked at him, and then turned to each other smiling. “Why don’t you put them on Mama’s night-table darling boy?” said the grandmother, “and then we’ll have some lunch.”