The Severed Twig: An Excerpt: The Road Less Travelled

There wasn’t a second to lose. I reserved a room in a boarding house in Sea Point, booked and purchased a one way train ticket to Cape Town and handed in my notice.  Mr Murray, my boss, felt I was just finding my niche and starting to show some promise.   Such praise was rare but not enough to change my mind.

The easy parts of the plan accomplished I pondered how to break the news to my parents. With the one-way ticket in my purse I wasn’t about to give up.  I left it until the night before leaving to broach the subject.  The butterflies were churning as I went about telling them my holiday plans.  In the end they agreed to the two weeks’ holiday and offered to drive me to the station in the morning. I forgave myself the deceit and left worrying about telling them that I’d left home for good.  When the time came to let them know I wasn’t coming home the thousand miles between us would be a good buffer.

Since my holiday announcement life on the home front had shifted gear to an unprecedented energy level with my parents hanging around my bedroom door at any given time day, and part of the night.    When it was time to leave the house the final items were placed into my large suitcase under the scrutiny of my stepmother.

“Why would you need such a large suitcase for a fortnight’s holiday?”  My stepmother was having difficulty coming to grips with the sudden need for a holiday and the size of my suitcase.

“Well,” I sucked in; “the weather is different down there and you know I don’t like being cold.”

“Oh, well if that’s the case surely a few jerseys and an extra pair of slacks would be plenty.” Stating the obvious she shifted from the edge of the bed towards the suitcase. “Dad’s going to have to sit on that to get it closed, even the extenders are fully out.”

“Look Mum, it’ll be okay.  I’m going on the train and they don’t have a limit on the size of your luggage.”

“That’s if you ever get it into the cabin.”

“I know but it doesn’t matter because I’ve booked it into the baggage van of the train,”

“So where’s your overnight bag to take with you into the compartment?” she asked scanning the bedroom.

I held up my old school suitcase emptied of schoolbooks and neatly packed with a chaste nightie, toiletries, a wholesome book (Rosemary’s Baby was at the bottom of the blue suitcase), and a book of crossword puzzles.

“How have you managed to fit everything you’ll need into that, it’s far too small?”  One bag was too big the other too small.  I imagined her wondering how I would ever cope without either herself or my father’s input into every facet of my day.

I stood staring out of my bedroom window overlooking Johannesburg and thought: it really is time I left home. As long as I’m here I’ll never be allowed even the simplest of decisions without their well-intentioned advice.   The day shone brilliantly while the city’s northern suburbs sprawled towards the horizon.  Would I miss it, this view from my bedroom window?  How beautiful it was. I’d not noticed before.  The memories of adolescence crowded back, some good, while others raised emotions I’d bottled up.  But this was time to be positive so I cleared my head and relaxed.

My stepmother wouldn’t leave it alone and on she continued. “You’ll never have enough room in your bag for your return trip once you’ve bought a few items; it’s bursting at the seams already.  And why do you need your tennis racket anyway, it’s only a few weeks. You won’t have time to find anyone to play tennis with.”  I didn’t tell her but I planned to join a tennis club once I’d settled in.  Her voice faded as thoughts of how good life was going to be without the daily reminders of how much better off I’d be if I’d only listen to their advice.

My stepmother had left leaving only an indent in the bed where she’d been sitting. I smoothed the bedspread and continued packing.  The cupboard doors stood open and I looked at the things I’d chosen to leave behind.  Barbie and Ken sat at the back of the deep shelf with their shared accessories neatly set out before them.  They smiled at me as I closed the door to face the grinning suitcase.  Just like my stepmother had said even with the extender arms pulled out to the maximum there was no way the lid was going to close.

“Dad”, I yelled from the bedroom door, “I need your help please, up here in my bedroom.”  It wasn’t long before he was up the stairs, he’d been primed with inner knowledge, his smug satisfaction evident.    Gloating was permitted because I needed his assistance and even more so to get the great blue beast down the stairs and into the car.

My parents’ company at the Johannesburg train station was the final chapter in an over-sheltered life.  They had done well but it was from now I’d be making the decisions that affected my life.  My father and stepmother waved and then they were lost from sight. I felt neither loss nor remorse.   What a glorious Saturday morning it was in 1972.


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