#15 The Trip to Kilimanjaro (3/3)
Happy mid-April, friendos!
I just want to take a moment to welcome the newcomers, and celebrate smashing through the barrier of three hundred readers. It’s amazing. Thank you!
Onto the good stuff.
This is the final part of The Trip To Kilimanjaro, a three part story about far-flung places, romances, money and family. To date, Leon, our protagonist has been desperately saving up money for a trip to Kilimanjaro by working a job on the fish counter in the local supermarket. When he divulges too much information about his savings, he’s subject to a robbery. The worst luck. But his mother, ever-conscious of his needs, does what she can to help lift his spirits, refilling his piggy bank.
In this episode, the story comes to a conclusion…
but not in the way you’d expect.
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#The Trip To Kilimanjaro (3/3)
I’m Ready For The Trip
A few months have passed since the robbery, since Mum gave me half the cash I needed for the trip. It’s May and the sun is out all week. I’ve just had my final exams for college and will soon finish. What happens next in my life I do not know: university, a job, an apprenticeship… I have no idea. All I know is I have enough money to book flights for Kilimanjaro International Airport.
The only problem is I’m waiting for one thing: contact from Zahra. I haven’t heard from her in nearly four months.
We usually send WhatsApps to each other, pictures and jokes, and then maybe speak every now and then, or share an email with a longer conversation. But I’ve not had anything. I figured she’s busy, and she’s saving too for our trip. Maybe something’s happened that’s personal and it’s nothing to do with me. Anyway, I assume it’ll go ahead. If it wouldn’t, she would tell me. And she’s so sweet, she wouldn’t do anything so nefarious as to stop talking to me just like that.
I spend a long time searching online for things I might need: insect repellent, ear plugs, sunglasses. I even buy an impressive water pump which filters the crap out of dirty water for drinking. My Mum is excited for me, asks every day what I think it will be like there, what I want to do, what I want to see. It’s further than she’s ever been, and she keeps saying how her world feels so small when she thinks of me at Kilimanjaro.
She smiles when she talks but something has changed in her. She looks tired. Her eyes have several folds of skin around them now. She has a darker tone to her skin, like she’s missed sunlight.
She doesn’t eat as much as she used to, so little that I’m basically eating two meals for dinner to get through it all.
It Turns Out
Mum has liver cancer. It all happened very quickly. Just as quickly as that sentence. She told me this morning she was going to see her GP, but she really went to hospital to see a specialist. She’d already been referred. They ran the tests. She has lost a lot of weight. She looks frail, like she’s aged 30 years in 30 days.
When she tells me, sitting on the sofa in the living room, in the same place she was when she gave me the money for Kilimanjaro, she looks like a child seeking reassurance. Her eyes are glassy and her voice wavers.
Some days pass, and I hear her on the phone to family members, sharing the news. It takes me a long time to understand it. What it really means. I do not sleep much, and when I do, the images that appear are like nothing I have known.
One morning, she’s talking to her sister who lives in a village in Yorkshire. She says to my aunt that she’s been put on a waiting list for three months. It makes her voice crack when she says, I have to live with this thing for at least three months. And who knows, probably longer. I don’t hear what Auntie Sara says but my Mum replies: I can’t do that. I don’t have the money. You must know how expensive private is. And then, after a pause: you don’t have to do that. It’s fine.
There’s a period of prolonged silence. I don’t want to listen anymore.
I pick up my phone and open the WhatsApp chat with Zahra.
Last online at 10:32 am.
That was ten minutes ago. And nearly six in the morning in Columbus.
Hellooo, are you there? I’m ready to fly to Africa. Just give me the go-ahead.
I include an emoji of a plane and a mountain.
Later that night, I have a chaotic dream. It thrusts me up in the middle of the night. I sweat. I heave. I’ve never really experienced this before. I go downstairs and get a glass of water. I splash water from the sink onto my face. I hope it will wake me up and help calm me down.
In the darkness I think about Mum: how generous she has been to me, and how unfair it is for the cancer to pick on the generous.
When I go back to bed, the sheets are damp with sweat. I peer behind the curtain and look at the moon clutching at the clouds, clambering to get through.
The Mornings Are Quiet
Mum has made a habit of sleeping in. She says she’s so tired, bone-tired, all the way through to her core. She sleeps in very late now. The morning after my chaotic sweat-dream, I find my Aunt’s phone number in the address book and ring.
I haven’t spoken to her in many years. She isn't my kind of person. She’s bossy and loud and talks over me. But I think my voice surprises her and she doesn’t know why I’m calling. Maybe she’s sensitive because she knows Mum’s circumstances. She’s very polite and hears me out.
I have several thousand pounds saved for a trip to Kilimanjaro. Will that help for private care? Can you help collect some money? Will granny and grandpa help? Can you call my Dad, will he help? What about Uncle Sam and his wife, Leanne? Between us, we might be able to do something. We have to do something.
She mulls it over and agrees, in the end, that it will work if we can get the rest of the family involved. She tells me to leave it with her and she’ll call again. When I next speak to her, she says those she spoke to will help. She had offered to pay anyway but Mum wouldn’t have it. But if we all do it, she cannot say no.
In The End
What our money bought doesn’t seem to amount to much. I am standing in a large square room with lots of people looking sad and the news playing on the TV: the Prime Minister this and that, and bla, bla, parliamentary vote. Something else I don’t understand.
I watch Mum disappear through several doors and then I sit down with my Aunt. Sam, my uncle, came too. He has a moustache that wasn’t there before and it doesn’t suit him. He looks about four decades too late for that fashion.
I think about Kilimanjaro, and that I will probably never go.
Before we left for the hospital, I took down the postcard from Zahra. I took a last look at the zebras grazing in the long grass, the low, thin cloud, and the mountain, with its dips of shadow and indentations in the snowy white. I thought about how Zahra and her family looked at it with sparkling eyes, and how they saw it as a God watching over them, giving them good harvest and fortunes for the future.
I threw the postcard away.
I thought I wanted nothing else in the whole world than to go to Kilimanjaro with Zahra. But now, I can’t even remember what Zahra looks like, and Kilimanjaro is nothing to me.
As I sit on the hard bench of the waiting room, staring at the sad faces and the nurses gliding through and the fuzzy picture on the TV, I know for sure that all I want is to take Mum home and for her to run her fingers through my hair like she always used to.
Well, that’s it. The final part of The Trip To Kilimanjaro. I do hope you enjoyed the story - it’s honestly one of my favourites that I’ve written. Do share with anyone who might enjoy it and send me your thoughts.
As always, more to come in a few weeks: a humor piece about the trials of procrastination.