By Max Musson:
It was a fresh spring morning and David Jeffery was excited at the prospect of seeing his wife and daughter once more and possibly his grandchildren. He had travelled a long way. It seemed as though they lived a whole world apart nowadays, but David knew where he was going. He was going home. Home to the town in which he was born and in which his father’s family, along the Jeffery line, had lived continuously for six generations.
As he travelled, David’s thoughts went back to the days of his childhood and he remembered his father and his grandfather, how tall they were. He remembered their fine features, the chestnut brown hair that he had inherited from them, the pale, almost sky-blue colour of their eyes and the prominent ‘Jeffery chin’ that was a distinct family trait. He remembered how proud they were of him and the school prizes that he had won for sport and for art.
David’s grandfather had been an artist and he remembered the paintings that hung in his parent’s lounge, of woodland scenes and landscapes depicting cattle, sheep and pigs in the farmer’s fields near where they lived. The ability to draw and paint was another distinctive family trait and one in which all of the family took pride. David’s father had started a greengrocer’s business and had opened a shop next to the post office near where they lived, but he too had been something of an artist, producing the occasional water colour in his spare time and selling them as a side-line in the shop.
Pride of place above the mantel piece in the family home was a portrait of David’s mother that his father had painted one Christmas and which all the family agreed had captured her likeness to a ‘T’.
David’s mother was a very forthright woman who liked to have her way in the home and her way usually turned out to be right. She was a good looking woman well into middle age, who always took a strongly moral line in everything she did.
David remembered though how she had become frail in old age, her face gaunt and wrinkled, but the light of love for her family always shone from her eyes and it had been a bitter day when she passed. David’s dad had never recovered from the loss and he too died shortly afterwards.
Throughout David’s life he had been devoted to Susan. They were sweet-hearts at school and they married just after Susan’s nineteenth birthday.
David and Susan worked hard to create a good home for their children and despite wanting more children, a medical complication during the birth of their second daughter meant they would have to be content with just two.
Susan was a very modern woman and went back to work once the girls were old enough and with the money David made at the shop he had inherited from his father, the family had a good standard of living and they had the money to spoil the children at times, giving them treats that many other children from less well-off families had to go without.
The two daughters, Kate and Emily did well at school and they had inherited the forthright and highly moralistic natures of both their mother and their grandmother. They formed strong opinions and would often come home from school to lecture their parents about certain traditional aspects of their lives they felt were out of date and in some cases ‘archaic’.
Both were very ambitious, winning prizes at school, sixth-form and in higher education for their course and project work and it therefore came as a tremendous shock to David and Susan when having finished at university with a ‘first’ in anthropology, Kate declared her intention to become a missionary and devote her life to the relief of suffering among the indigenous peoples of Central Africa.
Shortly afterwards, in the autumn of 1993, Kate had flown out to Rwanda and began working for a United Nations sponsored project among impoverished Tutsi people in the Kigali district, and in early April the following year, David and his family were devastated to hear that Kate had been killed during the genicidal pogroms waged by Hutu ‘interahamwe’ against their Tutsi rivals.
Kate’s death impacted heavily upon David, Susan and Emily, each of them affected in different ways.
Emily had still been at university at the time and her grief at the loss of her older sister caused her to search for something that would give her life greater meaning. She took up various causes became involved with fringe religious sects for a while and David and Susan were very worried for her.
Emily fell under the influence of an anarchist group at first and began to attend anti-capitalist demonstrations and taking part in campaigns against the British National Party and other nationalist groups regarded as ‘racist’ by the left.
David cautioned her against getting involved with groups that are potentially violent and which could get her into trouble. He was concerned that having lost one headstrong daughter to a cause which had little or no bearing on their everyday lives, he didn’t want to risk losing another to political extremism.
Emily however took no notice of her father becoming more distant as time passed and this development began to take its toll on David’s relationship with Susan. Susan was fearful that criticism of Emily’s causes would result in her becoming progressively alienated from both parents and she chose to take a sympathetic if not supportive approach, which often lead to arguments between her and David.
David was not a political person, he had always voted for local politicians based upon what he perceived to be the personalities of the individuals in question, it was never a matter of party politics for him. He had however been concerned by the gradual transformation of his home town, which had always been a traditional market town, into a centre of multiculturalism.
David had always envisaged a future in which his daughters would marry local men from traditional family backgrounds and that his twilight years would be spent playing the part of the genial grandfather, as his own father had and his grandfather before that, to a gaggle of rosy cheeked youngsters. He had hoped to spend time teaching his grandchildren to draw and paint and had hoped that he would see them winning ribbons, as he had on school sports days. He had hoped to take them for days out over the Yorkshire moors, where they could visit local beauty spots and learn about the history of their town and the community in which they were rooted.
Now, with one daughter gone and the other obsessed with wild, radical ideas and with no thoughts of settling down and with no affinity with the things he held dear, it was difficult for David to foresee how things would happily play out. Worst of all, Emily’s political activities and her search for religious solace had lead her to begin dating a fellow student activist from her university, a young Asian lad, called Amir, from a Muslim family.
David was concerned that Emily did not know what she was getting into. He had read stories of British girls being spirited away to far off countries by Asian husbands and living lives of subordinate drudgery against their will, in a foreign land, surrounded by foreign people. He did not want that for Emily, but Emily was insistent that her boyfriend was very modern, that he respected women and shared her radical politics, and Susan had met him and thought he was very polite and well mannered.
In any event, David’s anguish was short lived. He had been out for the day with friends visiting York Minster and the Jorvik Viking Centre. As they travelled home late that night the car in which they travelled was involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle coming the other way, and David along with his companions had been killed instantly.
And so it was that on this fresh spring morning David Jeffery journeyed back to his home town, in spirit, if not in body.
In the days following his death, he had been able to look down upon his still and lifeless corpse. He had seen the undertakers perform their cosmetic miracles and had watched distraught as Susan had come to identify his body and pay her last respects.
He had watched from the high vaulted ceilings of the church as the pallbearers had carried his coffin in and as the vicar had lead his family in prayer before committing his body to the ground.
He had seen young Emily supporting her mother’s arm, and he had seen the swarthy young man at her side. Amir’s dark dry eyes watching as both mother and daughter wept.
Since then time had taken on a different meaning for David. He was no longer of this world, but he was not yet resigned to enter the next as so it was that for more than two decades he battled against the other worldly forces, pulling him this way one moment and that way the next. But David could not rest until he knew what had become of his family and eventually, after many years, the forces pulling him away relented and his journey back to his native Yorkshire and his family home in that small market town began.
As his destination finally came into view David was full of expectation.
Suddenly, there was the family home, familiar in so many ways, as only a house that has been in one’s family for six generations could be. But there was something different about it also. The lawn and the flower beds from the front garden were gone and the garden had been paved over. Several cars occupied this expanse of parking space.
In the back garden half a dozen children of various ages played.
Could these be my grandchildren, David thought, and as he drew closer he looked to see if any of them bore the distinctive Jeffery family characteristics. Sadly none did. Their skin, their hair and their eyes were dark and unmistakably Asian, and as they laughed and played they spoke a language that David did not understand.
Inside the house David was met by strange aromas. A pot of freshly cooked curry sat bubbling on the hob and at first two, then three Asian women appeared bustling back and forth setting out cutlery and crockery on the dining table in readiness for a meal.
The house was furnished differently now. Gone were the paintings and gone also were all of the ornaments that Susan had so loved to collect. Decor was now simple and functional, chairs and tables and a television, but no books, no paintings, no ornaments – no art. And it began to dawn on David that Emily’s Asian boyfriend may have been a rather more traditional Muslim than she had thought and in the years since David had died, she may have become drawn inexorably into a traditional Muslim mode of living, possibly even adopting Islam as her faith.
The silence was broken as a man came into the house and traditional Muslim greetings were exchanged. David looked closely at the man and he recognised him immediately as Emily’s boyfriend. He was somewhat older now but it was definitely him, it was definitely Amir.
In a panic David looked closely at the women in the house, but they were all fully veiled. One was definitely older than the other two and was possibly Amir’s mother. The other two were younger but it was impossible to be sure if Emily was one of them.
Is this what has become of my family thought David with mounting dismay. Is that my daughter living a life of domestic drudgery among an extended Asian family, in a home devoid of art? Are they my grandchildren in the garden, with features that bear no resemblance to mine, showing no interest in the things I loved as a child? Are the like of my parents and grandparents never to be seen again?
Oh, Emily, is that you there under that veil?
And what has become of dear Susan, your mother? Where is she?
David’s mind was in turmoil as he flew distraught from that house, that was no longer home to him and from those people that were no longer kin. And he felt tears roll down his cheeks as he remembered the generations of his family that he had known and the countless generations before them going back to the beginning of time. He saw their dear faces, with their soulful eyes looking back at him in dismay. Is this the way it ends?
And in that moment David realised the meaning of life and the responsibility he must bear for so grievously failing to ensure the perpetuation of his kind. The darkness of night closed in around David as he soared upwards away from the source of his pain. But the pain was unbearable as he looked back and to see that not only his old family home now occupied by another people, but every house in that street. Not just one family dead, but an entire community, buried under a blizzard of darkness.
And David saw not just the eyes of the bygone generations of the Jeffery family staring back him, accusing him, bearing testament to his folly, but the weeping eyes of countless other families whose sacred bloodlines have been so prematurely truncated, and each of them asking again, is this the way it ends? Is this the way our race ends?
David was now spinning down through the darkness, if this is indeed the way it ends, the mental agony will be more than he can bear! But as he falls his attention is caught by a light rising to meet him and he stops and watches as a Chinese lantern passes by.
David looks down and can see far down below the glow of a small fire with lights surrounding it.
Down below him David can see that in a garden there is a family enjoying an evening barbecue, like the barbecues of his youth, when the whole family would gather to enjoy good company, the still night air, freshly cooked food and the warmth of an open fire. David is drawn to down to take a closer look.
There in the garden of a four-bedroom suburban home he can see the father, a man of about forty-five standing, flipping burgers and sausages at the barbecue and there are six or seven younger people, teenaged and in their twenties and three or four small children, laughing and joking and listening to music as they prepare to launch another lantern.
David looks down at them and his heart warms at the sight of them. The men are tall and handsome, some with the same chestnut brown hair that was once so characteristic of his own family. He is drawn closer and closer until he is moving among them.
Suddenly the father turns towards the house and calls out, “Can you bring me out another bag of charcoal please, Emily?”
David turns and looks and can hardly believe his eyes as he sees his darling Emily, much older now and with dyed blonde highlights in her hair, the way women so often try to hide the grey, but his Emily none-the-less.
So this is what became of Emily! She had split with Amir and found herself an Englishman to marry and was now a happily married mother with children and grandchildren of her own!
David danced with joy, his heart soared and he found himself rushing through the house taking in the ambiance and looking for the artifacts that had been so familiar to him in times gone by.
There on the walls were the pictures painted by his grandfather and there, nestling on shelves among the books, David recognised ornaments that had once been collected by his wife. And finally, there sitting in a corner armchair, leafing through a family photo album with one of her great-grandchildren on her knee was Susan. Again a little older and greyer than David remembered, but still going strong and living in the bosom of the family.
David’s mental anguish was over. He had not failed after all, and while his daughters may not have shared his love of tradition, kith and kin – certainly not while they were younger – Emily at least had survived long enough for the values imbued within her by her parents to prevail. The Jeffery name had come to an end and the original family home was no longer in the family, but what really matters, the family with its distinctive features and with its fine traditions would live on.
David was home at last!
By Max Musson © 2015
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