Dog days

We are in drought; everywhere is brown. Leaves are falling and lawns are dead. The on/off Haze is fanned by Saharan winds, hairdryer-hot. Cat bowls dot the pavements untouched. Dogs don’t even go out, let alone lie in the shade. Normally we curse the storms and welcome the dry heat, but these days there is something sinister about the bright white light filtering through the stick-dry trees. From the safety of indoors it can all look rather tempting but venture out for any length of time and the atmosphere is oven-hot, intense. This is not normal.

Images of autumn leaves have always been a memento mori, a whimsy reminder of the fragile cycle of life. Golden forests for mourning cards, fall backdrops for minor-key film credits, dead bracken for sad book covers. This week the piles of fallen leaves are particularly symbolic, because something autumnal has happened in this safe haven of ours, a sudden spanner in the works of our jolly wheel of fortune, cutting into a happy family unit and blotting out their sun, making everything grey.

Winter, suddenly, has frozen the timeline of a man who should have been pottering through his own colourful summer. Panning out in the global wake of the much broader crisis of the missing jumbo jet, this family’s stark and surreal event has been closer to home, a cold crisis on an intricate scale: domestic, undiluted.

Observing from the sidelines under incongruous sun-shiny skies, we are heavy hearted as the news trickles through the interlinked social networks. Like the dry spell, there is nothing we can do, no solace to be found. A very bad thing has happened to a friend, someone very good, a man who coloured the world and who should not (cannot) have gone. Normality has been tipped up, undone, all reason evaporated. Like the drought and the jet, this was not supposed to happen. It is wrong, unscheduled, not in the manual.

Rain is finally expected this weekend. If and when that happens, we look forward to our lawns and leaves shining once more. For one family, though, life will never be quite as shiny again.

Il pleut

My mother-in-law was terrified of rain. Living as she did in the UK this always seemed a rather extreme reaction to what was only ever, as I saw it, a few drops. She was terrified of the stuff, horrified if we allowed her small grandson to play in it without full waxed-up coat and boots, and she point-blank refused to go for a walk if the clouds were looming. I chalked it up as one of her sweet idiosyncrasies and left it at that – and then we started visiting SE Asia, her neck of the woods, and the phobia began to make sense.

Tonight (well, today) it is raining in the UK and this fact has made me homesick because it is tangible news, familiar, something that I can imagine. Actually it’s major news, has taken over all the big websites in the way that large storms back home tend to – our home country is getting the sort of lashing for which my mother-in-law would have gone into total lockdown. Still (and I know it’s not a competition) I can’t help but compare it to what I have been seeing from the safety of our apartment.

When the skies open here the whole world is shiny. I’m often cosily tapping away at my computer when it hits and from our living room window the rain is so thick that it obscures the view. I can just about see across to the pool where the droplets have blurred the blue depths: you can actually see them, double-size, dashing down in needle-straight lines from the clouds. But this rain has not made front-page news, it is normal. People are walking in it. The bloke fixing the flat upstairs has simply moved his drilling inside. Cars are going past. No one is building an ark.

Yes, rain stops play here, makes things tricky. The school bus will be late, the public bus will be late, you can’t get a cab and you don’t want to be stuck somewhere other than the place you want to be when it hits because you might be there for a while. Don’t bother with any kind of proper footwear here, and don’t expect to wear trousers and not have them stick to your legs. One of the first cabs I ordered was made to wait for me and SmallMonkey because we were faffing. They rang me twice in five minutes. ‘Ma’am,’ begged the operator on his second call, ‘please hurry up it’s about to rain.’ Still, for all the palaver, it is normal palaver, very expected. And we’ve not even hit proper rainy season yet, weather that I saw last Christmas on a brief tourist trip here, when the water levels rose so high one day that walking about in my (ridiculous, I soon realised) flip-flops gave me blister burns that have left permanent scars.

I can feel myself turning into my mother-in-law, adopting her sense of drama about it all. Take last Friday, mid-afternoon: I was cooking in the kitchen when several very large explosions went off somewhere down our street, or so it seemed to me. But at the window no one was running, the sky was not full of flames, no sirens, no bells, just an old lorry chugging past and a maid walking a dog on the grassy sidewalk and duly tidying up after it, all on laid-back stroll-time. I skidded through to the living room, yanked open the patio door, beckoned to a neighbour: ‘Was that thunder?’, and she gave me a sympathetic nod.

Not such a stupid question if you’d heard it yourself. This was no chubby rumble but a sound I’d never heard before like crazy sharp static, and not just one explosion but a series of them, crack crack crack, and a deluge to follow that was like the prolonged unzipping of a giant market stall covering that might have been sagging in a storm and eventually split but then didn’t stop. Re-enact the scene in your mind and then make it go on for half an hour and you’ll get the picture.

Ten minutes later SmallMonkey hopped off the school bus like a sparrow in a birdbath, and as I held our ridiculous bought-for-Singapore golf umbrella over his head (and I will never tease Mr PartlyCloudy again for buying it) I strained to hear my boy’s voice over the water clatter:

‘It’s OK Mummy, I told the driver how to get home in the storm.’

At least someone in this family has a bit of common sense.