I decide to go away for a couple of weeks with Tala. Okha has entered the world of full time work with its meagre holiday allowance and can’t come. It is a hard decision to make as we will miss two prison visits. It feels selfish and also essential to go and decompress. I know what the weekly visits mean to me and I still have all of the rest of my life, so I can only imagine how important it is for Rob to see us and live vicariously in quasi normality for a couple of hours, but I am craving nature, and sun of course, like every long suffering Brit.
The thought of spending the school holidays kicking around London, battling to deflect attention away from screens and into more wholesome activities, is unappealing and so I book flights to Ibiza to visit wonderful Anita who has broken her leg in a bizarre dog walking accident, then to Portugal to help some of my dearest, oldest friends cook for thirty people three times a day in their yoga retreat centre. That should keep me out of trouble! Rob is as always just pleased for us. He seems to be able to cope with what he is (or rather is not) living, as long as he can see that at least we are happy.
The journey starts very badly. I attempt to print our boarding passes and am informed that Tala’s passport is out of date. A frenetic Google search confirms my fears that although we are still part of Europe, (technically if not emotionally), a valid passport remains a prerequisite for travel. Our suitcase is packed and waiting by the door, Tala is chomping at the bit to leave. I feel stupid and negligent and unsure, but I can’t bear to fail already before the escape has even started and so I shove her birth certificate into my bag, grab the cases and go. Perhaps no-one will notice?
Aboard the Stanstead express I almost bolt, cut my losses and return home, but the doors shut and we are committed. It’s a rather fraught journey. I approach the eerily empty Easyjet desk and suddenly I know that I can’t spend the entire onward journey like a stowaway waiting to be unearthed. I have no appetite to find myself on the wrong side of any kind of regulation right now and so I come clean with the check in guy. He seems promisingly unfazed and nips out through a hidden door into an office that must be bisected by suitcases lurching through on conveyor belts only to emerge minutes later after a brief phone call and inform us that in fact, you can travel to Spain for a full year with an expired passport. Success! Tala and I cheer and whoop and high five each other. We shall go to the ball!
It is fun to travel light. Just the two of us and one bag, Tala traversing the smooth airport surfaces at speed on her Heeleys. It reminds me of when Oki was small and we were a little team, who grew to three when we found Rob and then a balanced four.
We stay in the little apartment that overlooks the house where we have stayed every year since Tala’s birth. It is perfect for the two of us and better still, friends are staying below and a sort of idyllic commune evolves where the children run wild, stopping only to be fed in one place or another or both and long lazy afternoons are spent catching frogs or lizards in the way you could imagine that children used to before the advent of TV. I feel the pace change and we are happiest when we are doing nothing, listening to the cicadas, delighting in the soft breeze, the heat, the light and the colours.
I have been surviving on the cast iron support of the people around me. It is a wonderful thing to realise that somehow, despite my many failings as a friend, I am totally held. There are new people too who trouble themselves to write to a stranger, and connections to a wider community – journalists who might take our story forward, and amazingly the CEO of a flourishing NGO for prison reform who lives on my street and is charming and informed in equal measure. All of this is exciting, but I know that I need to ground myself and put down roots again as the separated person I must now be. It is time to start now. I allow myself to begin to feel joy again, anticipation even for the new life.
Rob still manages to call almost daily for a minute or two. It is the only contact I have now without his funny, informative letters. I can still email him, but again he has much more of our news and I know very little of what is happening in and around him. Yesterday they were let out into the yard for forty minutes. Despite the fact that prisoners are entitled to a daily hour outside, this is the first time that he has been out in well over a week. Whatever paltry light enters his cell through the window is all of the outside that he gets most days.
I see old friends who still don’t know the story. It never fails to shock. It is hard to reconcile the thought of Rob with his strong inner light locked away from the world. A friend told me this though, and I repeat it like a mantra when I falter: Sometimes when you think you have been buried, you have actually just been planted.