It's Not a Donkey Farm

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Chapter 4

Daria always saw that particular Saturday in Autumn as the day her idea first began to sprout. It became known as “Daria’s Saturday”. It was then that the first, tiny little inklings that she knew what she was going to do, began. After her phone call to Mr. Nutter, when she had been so urged on by Anthony, and after the sheer and utter relief she’d felt when she’d heard Mr. Nutter’s response, she had a realisation.

Ever since she had found the trunk, she’d felt indecisive. Every time she’d thought of the implications, her head had felt woolly. She’d dithered because she’d seen it all as some sort of huge problem. A massive heap of questions that she could never quite keep out of her head. She’d dreamt of donkey farms in ruins and a mad old woman with a red ribbon in her hair shouting at her. She’d fantasised about having struggling conversations with some Notaire who didn’t speak English and being completely baffled as to how she could sell a ruin in a foreign country that she didn’t know. But most of all, the ‘why didn’t Opa tell me?’ question hurt and puzzled and upset her.

But that encouragement of Anthony, then the enthusiasm of Mr. Nutter who was so delighted to be asked, because it made him feel like a private detective he’d said, had an impact upon Daria. She realised she was the only one who wasn’t wholly excited about this journey, this time of exploration into a hidden side of Opa. Others were concerned, she saw that. But they were concerned for her, her well-being, not any outcomes of this mystery. Not concerned or worried in the ways she was.

She saw these two conversations, with Anthony and Mr. Nutter, as confronting her attitudes, her responses. And she realised she knew how to move on. Ordinarily, she’d have automatically called upon Opa whenever the weird or wonderful happened. And he’d always have an answer, an anecdote or a question that would make her think. But this time, he wasn’t there. She couldn’t ask him, confide in him, speak of her fears, wait to be comforted. He wasn’t there. She wanted to be angry with him, wanted to cry in his arms, wanted to ask him what to do next. But he wasn’t there.

So Daria learnt how to hang on to that feeling of excitement she experienced on her Saturday morning. And how that had helped to create such a delightful trip into town to meet Lois and Rose. She felt she was learning to trust Opa in a completely new way. Rather than just trusting what he said, this was his trusting that she’d know what to do. And she had to trust in his belief in her. Otherwise, he’d have told her about the house. But now, she had to act without asking. She had to make decisions. He was trusting her to find out for herself.

*

It was practically all arranged when she decided to make her announcement to her sons. At Christmas, when they were all together, she’d been quite underhand in surreptitiously arranging a weekend when they would all be next together at home. And she’d enjoyed the way her plan came together. It was important that they didn’t suspect anything, it had to sound like almost a casual arrangement. It couldn’t be until early February, but that was ok as it gave her lots of time. There was lots to do.

The couple of months since Daria’s Saturday were filled with discoveries and arrangements. And whenever Daria felt scared, wavering or hesitant, she reminded herself about her Saturday. She almost physically felt Opa’s trust in her giving her strength. And others noticed. Her optimism, the enjoyment she felt in everything she did had an infectious quality. Daria thought she’d had such a lovely Christmas, especially with Lois and Rose there. Jack and Ben’s behaviour was impeccable, well as impeccable as it ever could be and they’d certainly made the most of having a child around so they could play.

She’d even celebrated the New Year, an occasion which usually found her in bed by ten with a good book and a hot chocolate. But she’d accepted Amy’s invitation to join a small dinner party and had thoroughly enjoyed herself. She’d loved the reactions and delight in others when she told her story of the mysterious trunk and the house in France. She was showered with questions, but did not let on her ideas about answers.

As promised, Mr. Nutter’s friend had emailed pictures of the house in France. Alfie Norton had driven over early one Sunday morning. Daria could hardly believe the photos. Alfie had obviously not been able to get inside. He said that he didn’t feel he could just knock on someone’s door and certainly not without having spoken to Daria about it first. So, he’d taken care not to be seen in case anyone asked questions. Not that there was anyone about, particularly. Daria got photos of the house, the village and a bit of the surrounding countryside looking down on the village, taken from a hill.

It wasn’t a ruin and it wasn’t a donkey farm. It did take Daria’s breath away and she felt cold prickles sweep over her body as she stared at the pictures. She hardly dare smile with the thrill she experienced, it seemed too unbelievable. The photographs showed a well cared for and quite delightful little stone cottage. From the angle where Alfie had taken some photos, Daria could see it was a two storied, end of terrace that had shuttered windows and an overhanging, tiled roof, with a couple of attic windows. At the side of the house, she could see a large wooden balcony, supported by sturdy uprights with a garden bench in its shadow. She wished she had some of the inside, but Alfie was quite right in respecting her request for anonymity, as well as the privacy of others.

The village seemed small and built on a hillside, from what she could tell. All of the buildings were made out of the same pale stone, all had shutters. None had front gardens, but doors that opened onto the small road. It all looked so old to Daria, so rustic. She imagined a small close community, people making their living from the countryside. There were obviously a couple of shops or something, and a square in the village and Alfie explained how the village was split into two. One half was higher up than the other part, he’d said. She replied to him immediately, thanking him, asking him questions and received a reply a couple of days later that consolidated her thoughts about her idea.

She emailed the boys and her friends with the pictures and for a while was inundated with the question: what next? But, and Daria had been extremely tempted to break her silence several times, she kept to the reply of ‘I don’t know yet.’ She rejected pleas to ask Alfie to talk to the Notaire once more, to find out why the house wasn’t abandoned as Opa clearly hadn’t lived there. But when Daria thought back over the years she’d known Opa, could she really say that she knew for certain that he’d never lived there?

Mr. Nutter had also been in touch the same week as Alfie. He rang again to say he had transcribed the deed and was sending her a copy. He said that she knew the most important details, the rest were references to the law and details of the property. The seller was unknown. According to the deed, Opa also had the responsibility of ensuring the good condition of the property. Mr. Nutter had no idea how that had been happening, there was no reference to that, but he had been assured by Alfie that it looked very decent. Small, but decent.

*

Daria had printed off copies of the photos that Alfie had sent and decided to go to Opa’s terrace and spend some time looking through the old photos that were still stored in suitcases under the spare bed. She wanted to see if there was a photo of the house. Maybe a picture was taken with somebody standing outside it. Or in the village. She could compare them. Maybe somebody in the pictures could be a member of his family.

It took Daria much longer than she’d thought. There seemed to be more photos than she could remember, but had never really seen them all together in a single place. First she discarded ones that definitely weren’t taken in France and then she made rows of similar sorts of photos depending on context. Photos eventually covered the floor as Daria surrounded herself with Opa’s past. She checked the back of each one for names and dates, but as she thought, nothing. Which was typical of Opa. When she was finally left with a pile of about fifty photos, but was uncertain and was prepared to recheck about a hundred more, she began to meticulously compare each one with Alfie’s photos.

The entire task was far more complicated than Daria had anticipated as well. She knew it might have been a bit optimistic to think there might be a photo of a relative standing outside the house, at an angle that totally corresponded with one of Alfie’s. And Daria thought that all the creases and tears in many of the older photos certainly wasn’t helping. Just as she was beginning to give up, Daria found one.

’It has to be. This is the house. I wonder who that is?″ she said staring at a tatty black and white photo of a child squatting on the front door step of an end of terrace stone house. Daria looked from one to the other. The wooden balcony wasn’t on the older photo, but that could easily have been added later, she thought. The houses beyond Opa’s looked the same, the street looked the same, with only minor modifications.

Daria stared at the child, a young girl dressed in shorts and a t-shirt with dishevelled long hair and a grubby face. A pretty face, a mischievous face. Daria sat and thought, musing over who this was, where they were now, what had happened in their life.

It took several more hours to check the possible pile, but Daria was only certain about that one particular photo. She’d put aside several others that she thought could be and would take home with her. But even just one felt like having discovered a hidden treasure. A treasure that would remain a secret until she’d made her announcement.

*

February arrived and only one area about Daria’s idea remained uncertain. But she’d find out about that when Jack arrived. Everything else had fallen into place quite smoothly. Daria felt quite nervous when the allotted Saturday dawned. Anthony had picked Ben up from the station and they had wondered whether Daria wanted to go to Opa’s or not while they were all there together. They knew Daria was regularly going over, nobody else had been there for a while. Jack arrived last, assuring Daria that the noise of his van was quite normal, he’d just had it MOTed and serviced and it was running like a dream. That made Daria smile.

They all went for a walk that afternoon, all three sons sensing something about their mother. But they were unsure what. They just knew something was different or something. Nobody mentioned anything because it felt too vague, intangible. They just enjoyed that soggy, cold February afternoon, trundling through Opa’s conker forest, as they had called it when they were younger.

Back home, they warmed over Daria’s French casserole and garlic bread. But each of the boys could not get over the feeling that they were waiting for something. Before pudding, Daria disappeared and returned with a bottle of champagne and the good glasses.

‘I knew it’ said Anthony ‘you’ve made a decision. You’re going to sell Opa’s house. Or both of Opa’s houses?’

‘No’ said Daria ‘but I do have something to say to you three. Something quite important.’

‘You’ve been a bit weird all day, you know mum’ said Jack.

‘Yeah. I feel like we’ve been waiting for this’ said Ben ‘What is it? What’s this all about?’

‘I have made a decision, you’re right Anthony. But I’m not going to sell. Either of Opa’s houses. Ben, I know you want his little terrace when you go to university, so I’d love it if you lived there. I’ll only charge you a peppercorn rent but it’s upkeep is your responsibility. You can move in as soon as you like.’

‘Brilliant, mum. Thanks. I’ll take good care of it, you know.’

‘But that’s not why we’ve been summoned, though’ said Anthony.

‘Summoned? Did I summon you? Yes, I suppose I did, really. Ok then. Next. Jack, are you still planning to sell your van?’

‘What? Well, yes as it happens. I’ve been trying for a while, but no takers. That’s why I got it serviced, to increase the chances. Why?’

‘Because I’d like to buy it from you. I’ll pay the going rate, the money is already waiting for you, if you agree.’

‘What?’ ‘What for?’ ‘Why?’ Buying the van?′ Questions from all three simultaneously barraged her, preventing any reply. Then silence fell.

‘Because I’m going to drive down to Ayen and see the house. I’m going to find out about it, find out what’s happened since 1946 when Opa got it.’

‘What?’ ‘Why?’ ‘In the van?’ ‘Who with?’ ‘When?’ Again questions hailed down and she waited for the silence.

‘Yes, in the van. On my own. At Easter.’

‘But how?’ said Anthony ‘and on your own? Are you sure? Have you thought about this?’

So Daria told them about her Saturday and how she felt that Opa was almost encouraging her to do this. He’d left it to her to make any decision because he’d never said anything to her. She was convinced he hadn’t forgotten about it, who could forget they had a house in France. He was far too sparky, too bright for that, so he’d known that Daria would find out about it one day. And by not telling her, he was forcing her to act in one way or another. He must have considered that she would possibly do nothing but sell from a distance. Take the safe option. Therefore, he must also have considered that this would be an opportunity for her to do something different, something exciting, something for herself. She knew he’d love it, love the thought of her driving down to see it. And so that’s what she was going to do.

As soon as Ben heard his mother speak about her Saturday, he was whole heartedly behind the idea. Jack was slightly more reticent and Anthony thought it was all a bit mad really. But he understood about her Saturday, he was witness to some sort of change in her that day. He became more at ease with the idea when she gave more detail.

Apparently, Daria and Alfie Norton had been regularly emailing since Daria told him she was planning a visit. He’d offered to be her guide around the area, to translate if need be, to be there if she needed any moral support when she went to the house. He seemed as excited as Mr. Nutter was. Daria assured them that he seemed genuine and that he came with Mr. Nutter’s assurances that he was reliable.

Then Daria produced the photos she had found at Opa’s, beginning with the one of the little girl in front of the house. She had also eventually identified the house in a couple of others, and a nice shot of the village in another. They were as fascinated in the identity of the child as she was, pondering over whether or not she was family. And if so, how? Daria said that she was taking the photos with her and was hoping to find out more once she was there.

Daria showed them the route she’d printed off and then the drivers map of France on which she’d marked out the route as well as stop off points and places she could park up the van to spend the night. She’d renewed her passport, which she had been horrified to see was over fifteen years out of date. She couldn’t immediately remember the last time she was abroad. She worked out that she could comfortably do the journey in two or three days, so she could just take her time and stop off whenever she wanted. And if she got there early, she could travel around the area for a bit. Get to know it without being known. She’d got the timetable for the Channel Tunnel and wanted to catch a morning train. She’d bought some French conversation CDs and was beginning to remember some basics.

‘But I think I’ll be relying on French people speaking English mainly. And on Alfie Norton once I’m in Ayen’ said Daria ‘and I think that’s about it. Now, Jack, will you sell me your van? Then I can book my ticket.’

‘But what about this house? You can’t just leave it empty for god knows how long’ said Anthony.

‘Yes, I can. Sandra and Amy, you, and Ian and Joan from next door and Bob and Lynda from down the street can look after it. And Ben, if he’s here by then.’

‘Have you asked them? Any of them yet?’

‘The neighbours know I’m going to be away for a while, but nothing else yet. And Sandra and Amy will say yes even though I haven’t asked them. They’re both coming round on Tuesday evening. I was thinking about making some spicy barbequed jack fruit in flat breads. I saw a tin the other day and found this amazing recipe, so...’

‘Mother, please stick to the point,’ exasperation and confusion rocked Anthony’s voice ’I can’t get my head round this. But you mean it, don’t you? I’m just...I don’t know. I just don’t know.′

‘How can I reassure you, Anthony? I have thought this out. Every single little bit. And all the parts of my plan have worked out so far. Amazingly so. Work, this house, Alfie Norton and now the van. It will be ok. I will be ok. Anyway, Sandra and Amy don’t actually know anything about anything yet, but I can’t see them, either of them saying no about the house.’

‘It was beginning to feel as if we were the last to know’ said Anthony.

‘No. Not at all. You three are the first to know it all really. Others know bits, but you know it all now.’

‘When do you go? When at Easter?’ said Anthony.

‘Just after. The weather should be quite warm there by then. I hope.’

‘But how can you spend nights in the van? Won’t it be freezing?’ Anthony still had concerns ‘how long are you going for? And what about work? You don’t get that much holiday, do you? You took quite a while off after Opa died.’

‘Remember what Opa used to say? “There’s no such thing as weather, just inappropriate clothing”. So, I’ll stick some extra layers on at night. I might even wear a hat if it’s that cold’ said Daria. She was confident that she’d thought of everything and so could assuage Anthony’s worries.

‘And work? What about work?’ he said.

‘I’ve spoken to Ivy and I’ve taken extended leave. I can have anything up to three months on half pay and after that any extra time would need to be negotiated. How amazing is that. I never thought I’d get so long. Ivy assures me my job is secure. She’s even getting personnel to write something. For my own peace of mind.’

‘What? Three months? Why so long?’ said Anthony.

‘Why not? It gives me the option. I might be back in two weeks, who knows. But I might not be. And I want to have time to find things out. Has anybody heard of Opa? And somebody has been taking care of the house. Who? How? Does anybody there actually remember him? There might be other ways of finding all this out. But this is how I want to do it. The Notaire has assured Alfie that I’ll actually be able to stay in the house when I arrive. I don’t know how or why, but just imagine that. So Alfie is going to find out about keys and things. And I’m taking the trunk and the painting with me. Maybe someone will know who the young woman is, if she’s anybody. And who did the painting and why. Sandra said that the painting might have been done inside the house. And I’m going to find out.’

Jack and Ben had been relatively silent while this was going on. Intensely listening to the questions and answers.

Then Ben simply shouted out, ‘fucking brilliant, mother. You’ve blown me away again.’

‘Yeah, go for it’ Jack joined in, ‘last time you acted so mad was after Opa’s funeral. Remember? That was hilarious. But this is epic. Unbelievable.’

‘I’m so glad you feel like that’ said Daria, immensely reassured, ‘and you Anthony?’

‘But why haven’t you said anything? Why haven’t you mentioned it before?’ he said.

‘For the same reason I didn’t tell you about not going to Opa’s wake. I was worried that you’d all talk me out of it. So I waited until now. When it’s all arranged. Sorry if that’s offended you, but I need to do this. And I think I needed to see if I could arrange it all on my own and I didn’t want to be worn down by objections if I was feeling a bit scared about it.’

‘I wouldn’t have worn you down’ Anthony objected.

‘But you might have done. But that would have been me, I’m not blaming you. It would have been because I would have let you, if you know what I mean. And I didn’t want to risk that. And I just needed to do this by myself. You know, work it out. And I have. Opa knew I could. So, it’s done. Except the van. Will you sell it to me, Jack?’

‘Too right. I’d say just take it, but I’ll need to get something else.’

‘And I wouldn’t just take it, anyway. So, that’s great. When? Take a look around for something you want first. But could I give it a test drive tomorrow? I’ve never driven anything like it before.’

‘Too right. Brilliant idea. I’ll show you round inside properly this time. And you know it’s a left hand drive? That’ll make it so much easier when you’re driving over there.’

‘Ah, I’d forgotten that. I wonder if I can manage that? Of course I can. Can we take a quick look now? I know it’s dark and raining and freezing but I’m dying to sit in the driver’s seat.’

‘Why not? Here, take the keys, so you can open your new chariot. About to zip you off to unknown destinations. Let’s all get in.’

So they all sat in the van and shivered with cold while Daria played with the gears, trying to familiarise herself with everything being on the opposite side. But it all felt easier than she’d imagined and didn’t think it would be a problem at all. The drivers space was roomier than she’d envisaged and she liked the way that the practically horizontal steering wheel made her feel as if she was driving a lorry. Jack turned on inside lights, which were brighter than Daria had expected, and they all had to shuffle round inside so that he could show her the cooker, how the beds worked and where storage was. The comedic element of four adults stooping and waddling inside such a confined space was not lost on Daria and she began to giggle.

‘Why on earth are we all in here together?’ said Anthony, beginning to laugh ‘this is ridiculous. There’s no room.’

‘There would be if you just moved your big fat bum off that bench’ said Jack.

‘I would, if Ben would get off my foot. Mum, don’t stand there.’

But Daria found she couldn’t move anywhere she was laughing so much.

‘Right, ok’ she said once she regained control of herself ‘let’s just sit for a minute. Just sit wherever you are.’

‘I’m not sitting on Tony’s lap, thank you’ said Ben.

‘Shut up, oaf. And sit’ said Anthony.

When the mayhem had subsided, Daria asked about what had been done on the van.

Jack explained. ‘And it’ll be really reliable. If you don’t drive like a lunatic’.

‘Well, I’m hardly likely to be doing that, am I?’

‘Who knows with you these days, mother dearest. Anything is possible’ said Jack, grinning at his unpredictable mother.

‘Too right’ said Ben ‘Hey, remember that other thing Opa used to say. Something like “whatever your wildest dreams may be only scratch the surface of what is possible”. I think he said he got that from a Kabbalist. But maybe this is your wildest dream. It’s going to be brilliant. I wish I was going with you. But can we go in now? I’m freezing.’

*

The following day, they all went out with Daria driving the van. It was easier than she’d thought and she was pleased with the heating. The most difficult thing was not being on the usual drivers side, but as she wasn’t planning on doing much over-taking if she could help it, she felt sure it wouldn’t be so bad. She thought that it being a left-hand drive would be an advantage for most of the journey. It was only a couple of hours and mostly motorway driving to the tunnel. Daria decided the van was exactly what she would need. There was plenty of room for clothes and blankets, she loved the clever way cupboards and shelves were placed to utilise each bit of space fully. Jack said she could have the pots and pans. She decided to buy new plates and mugs and start making a list of the food she would take. Not too much, she wanted to buy as she travelled. Just a few staples. And Opa’s hissing espresso maker.

Daria’s trip dominated the conversation all day, it seemed as if nobody could think of anything else to talk about. Daria thought that Anthony seemed more at ease with her idea, his comments weren’t so pessimistic, his questions more light hearted. Daria did feel a relief at his acceptance of her ideas, not that he’d have been able to change her mind.

‘Hang on, mum. You are going to be able to come to my opening night, aren’t you?’ Jack sounded alarmed.

‘I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I want to leave a couple of days after that. That gives me plenty of time. Anthony, I was wondering if Lois would like to come clothes shopping with me? She’s very elegant, stylish in a casual sort of way, if you know what I mean. I’d quite like her help with getting some new bits. And I might get my hair cut short.’

‘I’m sure she’d love it. We could all meet up after, I’ll take Rose to the park or something. Maybe see what’s on at the pictures, she’d like that. Lois took her to the cinema for the first time a few weeks ago. She loved it.’

‘Lovely. I’ll ring her later. Or do you think it would be better if you asked?’

‘No, you do it. Arrange a date and I’ll fit in alongside it.’

*

The meal with Sandra and Amy went as expected. Amy mirrored Jack and Ben and threatened to join her. Sandra had practical questions. Both promised to keep an eye on her house and declared how much they would miss her.

‘I just knew you’d be up and off’ said Amy ‘my god, that’s amazing.’

‘Are you sure?’ Sandra said, with the same sort of uncertainty that Anthony had expressed. So, again Daria went through the arrangements to reassure.

‘Well you are amazing. And I wish you all the answers to your questions. Good for you, Daria’ Sandra said.

‘Ho ho. Those French men had better look to their ways. You’ll have all sorts of monsieur’s raining down on you once they find out you’re single. You’re quite a catch now, you know, with your many houses and your secret Resistance hidden family’ said Amy.

‘Why do you always have to be so outrageous?’ said Sandra. But the three friends laughed anyway.

Amy insisted that when Daria actually got the van, that they would go out for a meal. In the van, nearer the time.

‘You’re going to have to get used to it. Oh, and can I bring the kids round? They’d love it. These vans are seriously cool at the moment and they’ll be so impressed. Oh, I know, let’s go somewhere and spend the night in it. Can you imagine? Just the three of us?’ Amy was clearly tickled by her idea.

‘Fool’ said Daria ‘but let’s go out in it. Definitely. The front can take three easily. And bring the kids round. Anytime.’

‘So when do you get it?’ said Sandra.

‘In about two weeks time, I hope. Maybe sooner. Jack rang yesterday and said he was going to check out a couple of cars he’s seen advertised. So as soon as he can get one, he’s bringing the van over. And he’s fitted a new radio CD player. So I got that Billie Holiday CD that you’ve been promising to copy for me, Amy.’

‘Oh, I remember. I’d forgotten. Sorry about that.’

‘No matter. I just want to drive through the French countryside with her playing. Does that sound daft? It’ll have to be a warm day. That way I can have the windows open. Hmm. Can’t you just picture it? Driving down a poplar tree lined, straight road with “How deep is the ocean” in the background. Perfect.’

‘Now you’re sounding like Amy. Maybe it’s a good job you’re going away for a bit,’ said Sandra, ‘heavens, how could I cope with two of you?’

The evening was full of friendly high spirits and they relooked at the painting, the chest and studied the road map. They made suggestions, had ideas, planned a future visit together for someday. Daria realised how much she would miss these women, these invaluable friends who had seen her through so many moments of joy, such times of sadness. Always there. Always a friend when she needed one.

*

Daria’s lists of what to do and what to buy got smaller and smaller. Shopping trips, bon voyage meals and a distribution of keys to friends and neighbours each acted as a milestone, a time and place to be marked, celebrated. She bought her train ticket and was surprised at how many trains were constantly going through the tunnel. Daria worked out that if she allowed three hours to get to Folkestone and left at eight, then she could be in France by eleven. She was amazed at how quick it would all be. And she intended leaving slightly earlier. Just to be sure. She promised to ring them all individually as soon as she arrived in France and then she’d call at some point before she got to Ayen. But they’d all realised that five calls each evening might be a bit unreasonable, so she’d call one or two and they’d pass the messages on. The thought that such precision seemed to be required by her family and friends made Daria smile. It was a sign of their enthusiasm, it would fulfil their unrequited need to be travelling with her and Daria was warmed by such love.

She’d also booked her first night in France in a small hotel in Orleans, overlooking the Loire river. Whenever she said that to herself, it sounded exotic, illusory and incredible. The route map said that it would be a four hour journey from the tunnel and so she’d be able to take it leisurely and have time to look around the town.

Daria considered all sorts of detours on the drive to Ayen. She’d never been to Paris, there would be so many things to see, so many places to visit there. But she decided against going as she was eager to get to her destination. When she went to Paris, she wanted time to walk along the Left Bank, go to Versailles and the Louvre, and a thousand other things. Paris would have to wait.

Daria felt that everything she did brought her a step closer. Made it feel more real. And each step increased her excitement and her anxiety. Now that she had told everyone, she needed their support and their reassurances. The family meal at Easter was quite an emotional one for them all. Daria knew she’d miss them all horribly, even though she knew that she might only be away for a short time, maybe only a couple of weeks, and that they’d all speak on the phone. But it wouldn’t be the same. They’d all clubbed together and bought Daria a good camera. Ben showed her that it wasn’t complicated to use and that she’d get some great shots to send them.

‘You are taking your laptop, aren’t you?’ said Anthony.

‘Yeah. You’ve got to’ said Jack ‘and we could all Skype once you get there.’

‘Can I do that? How do I do that? Will I get a connection in Ayen? Can I use my laptop?’ Daria thought that would be a great idea, but they’d have to practice first.

Anthony had anticipated her concerns and talked her through what she would need. He even produced a solar recharger that would work for the camera and laptop as it seemed to him to be a great way of making use of the nice weather in the area. He said that Alfie Norton could find out about connections in the area, Daria could email and ask him. If it was very rural, there might be limitations.

Daria went with Anthony and Lois to see Jack’s play. Daria had felt tears well up, a lump in her throat and a tingle down her spine at the deafening applause at the end. Jack was brilliant, she felt sure she couldn’t be the only one there who thought so. They celebrated with cocktails and Daria thought it was the effect of a Tequila Matador that made her feel maudlin at the thought of leaving her family, her lovely family behind. And it was definitely the Champagne Punch that caused her to laugh so loudly when Jack told them about a bed that had collapsed and about the woman who played the waitress and who kept dropping plates, both during dress rehearsals. Daria thought it hilarious. She didn’t want that evening to end.

After the unexpectedly busy time that the final few weeks before her journey were, Daria sat one evening and wondered at the strange turning in her life. Ben was about to move into Opa’s house, something she knew she’d wished for for quite a while, just as she was leaving the country. But she felt that, irony aside, she was leaving at a good time. Ben would be more settled, Anthony and Lois were going strong and she knew they were making plans for the future, and Jack would just go from strength to strength now. He’d grow after the success of his performance as Biff in Death of a Salesman, she knew that. So all in all, Daria mused, this is a great time to go if ever there was one. Or so she thought.

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