In 2012 a London West End student had an unexpected encounter with magic. This book gives an autobiographical account of what happens as her life turns topsy turvy during the months that follow. The story begins in Argentina, and shifts between Brazil, Europe and Africa as the plot unfolds.
The Merry-Go-Round is a global, contemporary novel inspired by a true story. It is about a London student whose life takes an unexpected turn for the worst.
Following a romantic year abroad, Anne Hoboka is keen to get back to London to finish her UCL degree and start a new life with her boyfriend (Fritz Boehm). Shortly after she arrives back, her business tycoon stepmother (Tamara Narapa-Hoboka) invites her on a luxury family retreat in Brazil.
Anne agrees to go; however, unbeknown to her, Tamara has a cunning plan to protect her inheritance. In Brazil she casts an old African spell on Anne, and when Anne returns to London she is a changed woman. One by one, Anne starts to lose touch with her boyfriend, her social network, and eventually herself. Her behaviour changes drastically as the plot progresses, and the people around her start to react as they witness her transformation.
Anne is forced to abandon her old life and take a closer look at the problem. She will find what she is looking for eventually, but not before her sanity, civility and degree are all thrown into jeopardy. Anne's quest for answers takes her to South Africa, Scotland and Spain, where she gathers clues about the root cause of the problem. Eventually she ends up completely desolate and isolated from her metropolitan life. She must make new friends and keep an open mind, as the quest for answers becomes a fight for her life.
When her modern-minded parents (Abo Hoboka and Chutu Chansa), and healthcare professionals, fail to help, Anne turns to her grandmother (Jacky Jarrel), a wise Zambian, who may be the only person able to piece the puzzle together before it is too late. Finally, in a mysterious flat in Sweden, and with the help of a sorceress friend, Jacky resorts to delving into African sorcery to lift the spell that turned Anne into a zombie.
* [Chpt 1: https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Story/52749]
The Cottage in the Woods
At seven thirty the next morning, my flight touched down at Heathrow. As I went through the automatic doors at the arrivals terminal, I saw my mother. My mother is a tall, slim woman with long legs, short black hair and small, beady eyes. I walked up to her and hugged her.
“Gosh Miss A! You've gained weight!” she said with a grin. “Welcome back.”
“How come you're here Mum?” I asked.
“I thought you might need some help finding accommodation,” she said with a smile.
My mother and I took a train to King's Cross and then a taxi to a bed and breakfast. I took an afternoon nap. When I woke up my mother and I went for lunch.
Later that afternoon, my friend Vanessa sent me a text to say that she had visited a few properties. Vanessa had arrived back in London a few days before me and she was looking for a housemate. Vanessa was half-Italian, half-Indian, and Chinese by birth. She had her eye on a three-bedroom house in Fitzroy Square. Once our call ended, she sent me a link to the property. The house was available the following week. It was close to our university, and at the heart of London's West End. Fitzroy Square had an elegant English feel to it. Filmmakers often used the square to shoot films that were set in “Old England”. The square was fifteen minutes from the National Portrait gallery, and a ten-minute walk from Oxford Circus and Soho. There was a string of cultural restaurants and coffee shops along Charlotte Street, which was less than three minutes away. Later that evening, my mother and I went to Brown's for dinner. Then we went back to the bed and breakfast and went to bed.
The next day, I rang Vanessa to arrange a viewing. She called the housing agent and made an appointment for us to view the property that afternoon. A few hours later, my mother and I took a taxi to Fitzroy Square. Vanessa and the estate agent were waiting by the door of 14B when my mother and I arrived. The house stood opposite a small bookshop. It had an ornate white facade and a glossy black door with an old-fashioned brass knocker. It was a three-storey house and it came fully furnished. It had two spacious double bedrooms on the basement floor, and another on the ground floor. The property also came with access to Fitzroy Gardens. Fitzroy Gardens was a large, exclusive patch of green at the centre of the square. The gardens were reached via a tall iron gate.
Once we had finished viewing the property, my mother returned to the bed and breakfast in King's Cross and Vanessa and I walked to a coffee shop on Charlotte Street. We ordered some coffee and sat down.
“I'm going to ask my parents tonight,” said Vanessa. “If they agree to help me with the bills, I'm going for it. Where else are we going to find a place that's available this soon? I'm in a hostel, and it's finals year.”
“Which bedroom would you want?” I asked.
“I don't mind,” replied Vanessa. “I liked the ground-floor room, but I could take another one.”
“I liked the basement bedroom,” I said. “And how about the third person? We would need to find someone fast.”
“Oh, that's easy,” said Vanessa with a shrug. “I can show you. There's this good roommate site that we could post and ad on.”
We agreed to give ourselves until the evening to think about it. I had to check whether or not I could afford it. Once we had finished our coffee, we returned to the bed and breakfast. That evening, Vanessa phoned the agent to confirm that we would move in. We then spent the rest of the week processing the paperwork for our lease. As soon as the property was taken off the market, my mother returned to Scotland. Two days later, the landlord released the keys. In the meantime I moved into my friend Scarlet's flat in Bow Road.
Vanessa and I posted adverts on a roommate website, and within a few hours people started writing and calling in. One of the emails was from a young woman who had also just moved to London. Her name was Valerie. Valerie was an investment banker from the south of France. Vanessa and I arranged to see her the day we moved in. She was a short, soft-spoken woman with pale skin and long mousey hair. When she arrived we had a brief conversation and showed her around the house. She liked the property, and before she left she signed the lease forms. A week later, she moved in.
In the meantime Fritz had begun his final year at university. We spoke on the phone every day. A few days after Valerie moved into Fitzroy Square, my grandmother called from Sweden. My grandmother lived alone in a summer cottage in Dragsmark. Her husband – my step-grandfather Karl – had passed away a few months earlier. After the burial, my grandmother decided that she wanted to sell the cottage and find a smaller place near the city.
“Come and see me before term starts,” she said. “It will probably be your last chance to see the cottage. How's Fritz?” she went on. “When was the last time you saw each other?”
“He's fine,” I said. “It's been two months now.”
“Why don't you ask Fritz if he wants to come?” she said. “I want to meet him! Find a cheap ticket and come and see me before term starts.”
The next weekend I flew to Gothenburg, and from there I took a bus to Dragsmark. Forty minutes later, the bus pulled into a large car park opposite a large building that had “Torp Supermarket” written above the entrance. As the bus pulled into the station, I looked out of my window and saw my grandmother's old white Saab parked in one of the spaces. I got off the bus and looked around for her. A few minutes later, I rolled my suitcase over to her car, leaned against the bonnet, and waited. Shortly afterwards, I heard my grandmother call my name. When I turned, I saw her walking towards me, pushing a trolley full of grocery bags. She was wearing a pair of baggy yellow shorts, big dark sunglasses and a piece of African material neatly wrapped around her head. My grandmother had small beady eyes, dark brown skin and a strong walk. She came up to me and hugged me.
“Sorry,” she said, “I had to pick up a few things from the supermarket. I was worried that we were running out of time! Welcome to Sweden. Gosh you've gained some weight dear! You're all grown up now! Have you been waiting long?”
“No granny,” I replied.
My grandmother helped me put the bags in the boot, then we got into the car and started driving. Ten minutes later, we arrived at another car park. As we drove in, I saw a tall young man sitting on a concrete platform, with his back to us. There was a black backpack on the ground next to him. As we drove past him, I wheeled down my window.
“Fritz!” I called.
Fritz turned around and waved at us. “Hey!” he said as he stood up.
As soon as my granny had parked, I burst out of the passenger seat, ran up to Fritz, and gave him a hug. Fritz picked up his backpack and held my hand as we walked to the car.
“Granny, this is Fritz,” I said. “Fritz, this is my grandmother, Jacky”
“Hello there!” said my grandmother as she shook Fritz's hand. “Welcome to Sweden. Do you want to put your bag in the boot?”
“No, it's fine thanks,” replied Fritz.
“How was your trip?” my grandmother asked. “Have you been waiting long?”
“No, not at all. I just got in. It took me six hours to get here in total,” he replied.
“Six hours?” exclaimed my grandmother.
“There were no cheap tickets directly to Gothenburg, so I spent a few hours on the bus,” he said.
“Well, shall we get going then? You guys will be hungry. I need to start preparing food,” said my grandmother.
“Oh, actually,” interjected Fritz, “I would like to cook us something tonight.”
“Aren't you tired?” asked my grandmother.
“No, and I really enjoy cooking,” he replied. “I used to work as a chef in Berlin.”
“All right then – I look forward to it,” she said. “That would be lovely.”
We climbed into the car and set off towards Dragsmark. Fifteen minutes later, we approached a dense evergreen forest. My grandmother's wooden cottage stood on a large plot in the middle of the forest. In front of the cottage there was a small footpath that cut through the trees and led to a beach. My grandparents and I used to swim at the beach in my summer holidays. During those holidays, Karl would work on extending the house, and building furniture. He built a small guesthouse behind the main house, and a wooden workshop that stood next to the guesthouse.
When Fritz and I arrived at the cottage, I showed him around the plot. I took him to my grandfather's old workshop. There were still piles of chopped firewood lying in front of the guesthouse. The main house had a large wooden veranda, most of which was enclosed by a glass roof. Behind the main house there was a little garden patch where my grandmother planted vegetables.
That evening, Fritz cooked a two-course meal, which we ate with wine. Shortly afterwards we all went to bed.
The next day we stayed at home. It was only to be a short, three-day trip, and during that time Fritz and I needed to help my grandmother box her belongings up and tidy the house. Fritz mowed the lawn while my grandmother and I boxed up her belongings. In the evening, I worked on my dissertation. On the second day, straight after breakfast, the three of us took baskets and went into the forest to pick mushrooms and wild strawberries. A few hours later we returned home and ate pancakes with my grandmother's home-made jam. After lunch my grandmother lent us her car, and Fritz and I drove around Lieseshiel. We drove to the coast and spent the afternoon by the beach. On our way home we stopped at a coffee shop and talked for a while. That evening, my grandmother, Fritz and I all stayed up late talking and laughing at the supper table. Then my grandmother and I cleared the table, washed the dishes and went to bed. My grandmother got into bed, turned off the bedside lamp and turned to me.
“Anne, you guys really seem to complement each other,” she said.
“Of course. He's a fine young man. He reminds me of Karl.”
“How?” I asked.
“He's kind and considerate. In time you'll see.”
Just as I was about to doze off, my grandmother turned the bedside lamp back on.
“Anne?” she said. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Did you take any drugs while you were in South America?”
“No,” I replied. “Why?”
“I know you young people like to experiment with these new things,” she said.
“No, I didn't,” I confirmed.
“Anne,” said my grandmother.
“When I was a little girl, the elders in my village always told us to eat from the same pot as everyone else. Never eat food that has been set aside especially for you.”
“Okay . . .” I said.
“I just thought I would share that with you,” said my grandmother.
A few seconds later, my grandmother said goodnight and switched off the light.
The next morning, Fritz helped me take photographs of the cottage. Then I worked on my dissertation, while Fritz and my grandmother drank coffee on the veranda. After lunch my grandmother, Fritz and I took a stroll in the forest. When we returned in the late afternoon, Fritz and I took all the chopped firewood wood and made a big bonfire in front of the guesthouse. Once the fire was alight, my grandmother brought out a few of her belongings out and threw them on. We all stood around the fire warming our hands. My grandmother had a distant look on her face as she gazed into the flames. Shortly afterwards, she excused herself and went back into the house. I rested the back of my head on Fritz's chest while he held his arms around me.
“My father once told me that when I met the woman I loved I would know it in my heart,” he whispered in my ear. “He said that I would know that she was right for me and that I should always keep her close . . . My parents really want to meet you. They've invited us to have dinner in Berlin.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “I'm browsing around for Masters courses in London. Next year I want move to London to be with you. We could find a place together. What do you think?”
I smiled as Fritz kissed me on the cheek. We stood gazing at the fire until the early morning.
The next day Fritz, my grandmother and I had breakfast. Fritz and I packed our bags, and by nine o'clock we were ready to leave. My grandmother drove us to the nearest train stop. We caught a train to Gothenburg. Once we arrived, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
Soon after I arrived back in London, I received a text message from my friend Noor. She said that she was due to arrive in London the next day. Two days after Noor arrived, we met for coffee. She and I had been friends since our first year. She had green eyes and dark brown hair, and she was fluent in French and Arabic.
“Nice dress,” I remarked as we sat down at the table.
“Gracias,” she said, “I bought it in Madrid.”
During our meeting Noor brought me up to speed on what was happening in her life. She told me about her work placement in Spain.
“And how are you?” she asked.
I told Noor about Fritz and our trip to Sweden. “Life's going well,” I said.
“Do you have a picture?” she asked. “Can I see?”
I showed Noor a picture of Fritz and me on the beach.
“You guys are going to have such cute babies!” said Noor as she looked at the picture. “I want to meet him!”
“You will,” I replied. He's coming to visit soon.”
“Great.” Noor lit a cigarette.
“And I want to write a book,” I said. “I'm glad I've finally figured out what I want to do. I had hoped that university would answer that question for me.”
“I know what you mean. I'm really happy for you,” said Noor. “What's the book going to about?”
“I want the book to portray life from a another perspective,” I replied. “I'm thinking a collection of short stories.”
“Brilliant,” said Noor. “I can't wait to read it.”
A few moments later, Noor began fiddling with her watch. “I have this job interview in an hour. I have to go,” she said.
Before Noor and I said goodbye we agreed to meet for drinks later in the week.
A few days later, I met my friends Scarlet and Penelope at a bar near Soho. Penelope and Scarlet read French and Spanish. I told them about Fritz, and our trip to Sweden.
“Good for you,” said Penelope. “I want to meet Fritz.”
Penelope reached into her handbag and took out a cigarette.
“I like your bag,” I said as she hung it back on her chair.
“Thanks,” she replied. “It's from Mauritius.”
Penelope said a few words about her year-abroad programme, and then she lit her cigarette. She began to talk about how she was having trouble finding accommodation. A few moments after our drinks arrived, Scarlet started talking about a Latino venue that she wanted to book for her birthday in March.
“There's this place in Soho called One West,” she said. “Do you have any idea where you're going to throw your party this year?”
“No,” I admitted.
“It's spread across two floors,” she went on. “The bar's upstairs and the DJ and dance floor are in the basement section. They have a four-month waiting list, so I want to book it now,” she said. “Hey! Why don't you and I do a joint party this year?”
Penelope, Scarlet and I carried on ordering drinks until the bar closed. I spent the rest of the weekend putting the finishing touches on my dissertation.
The following Monday, lectures commenced. I handed in my dissertation. I was off to a good start. My family life was in order: for one thing, I was getting along with my stepmother, Tamara. Tamara and I had regular, pleasant phone conversations. During my year abroad she used to call to check on me, and a few days after the new term started, she called me from Johannesburg to find out how I was settling in.
“Have you decided what you want to do?” she asked.
“I'm going to write a book and maybe study law,” I replied. “Doing my dissertation made me realize how much I enjoy writing.”
“Oh, that's wonderful my darling!” said Tamara. “You're so self-motivated. I looked over your dissertation, and I have to say it was exactly what I expected. It was structured and organised, just like you!”
Tamara ended the call by telling me that she loved me, and then she said goodbye.
“Goodbye Mum,” I replied.
Tamara was an accomplished woman and an icon in her industry. She had two children from a former marriage. Her son, Lerato, was just about to start university, and my stepsister, Nomvula, had just turned fourteen. Later on that week, Tamara called me again. I asked after my step-siblings.
“Your siblings are growing up so fast, and they always ask after their big sister. Your father misses you. He's been working late hours at the practice lately,” she replied.
Tamara and I carried on chatting for a while.
“Do you have plans for Christmas?” she asked.
“Not really,” I told her.
“Anne,” she said, “I feel like we haven't really had much of a chance to bond as a family. What would you say to a family holiday in Brazil this December?”
I thanked Tamara. I told her that I would give it some thought and get back to her. I couldn't remember the last time I’d had a chance to sit down and talk to my father.
A few days later, I rang Tamara to confirm that I would join them for the holidays. Over the next few weeks, I looked up a few recommended family destinations in Brazil. I asked Tamara if she had heard of any of them.
“No, but let's give it a go,” she said. “Email me the names and I'll see if we can book them. The children will be thrilled when they hear their big sister is coming.”
In the second weekend of November, I flew out to Germany to spend time with Fritz. He took me to meet his parents in Berlin. We all had dinner and it went well. Two weeks later, Fritz came to visit me in London. That weekend Vanessa, Valerie and I threw a housewarming party. The party was a success; all our friends showed up and Fritz and I had a good time. A few weeks later, the university closed for the Christmas holidays. I handed in my last assignments and said goodbye to my friends. On the eighteenth of December I caught a flight to Rio de Janeiro.
Rio de Janeiro
I arrived in Rio at eight o'clock in the morning. My father, Tamara and my stepmother were already there, having arrived the night before. As I walked through the double doors at the Arrivals terminal, Lerato ran up to me. Lerato was a tall, slim young man with short hair, a light complexion and a sharp, pointy noise. He was wearing a pair of black board shorts and a white T-shirt that had a slogan written across it in luminous pink. He also had a diamanté stud in his ear, and his baseball cap was turned to the side of his head. His voice had deepened since I last saw him. He greeted me with a warm hug.
“Gosh, you've grown!” I said as he took my trolley.
My father and Nomvulawere standing behind Lerato holding up a “Welcome” sign. Nomvula was a tall, bright teenager. She had big brown eyes, a light brown complexion and a short black braided bob. I walked up to her and hugged her. A few seconds later, my father hugged me.
“Miss Anne!” said my dad with a grin as he hugged me, “You're looking slim, eh.”
Tamara was standing at the back of the room, with her arms folded. She was a poised woman, and she had thin cornrows in her hair. Tamara had an even brown complexion, big eyes and a healthy smile. A few moments later, she walked up to me.
“Hello Mum,” I said.
Tamara opened her arms and gave me a hug. “Hello,” she said. “We were all wondering what had happened to you. We've been waiting since seven. I was worried.”
“Sorry. It's peak season. The immigration queues were a nightmare. It took another twenty minutes for our bags to appear on the conveyor belt,” I replied. “Is everything okay?”
“I'm just tired . . . exhausted, actually,” she said. “I didn't sleep very well last night.”
We all went to the hotel and ate breakfast. My father, Tamara and Lerato proceeded to the canteen while Nomvula accompanied me to our suite on the twelfth floor. The forty-five-square-foot suite overlooked Copacabana Beach. It had a spacious bedroom complete with two king-sized beds; a retractable, remote-controlled wall could spring up between the beds to divide the room into two. The thick red velvet curtains were operated by remote control.
“You can take the bed next to the window if you want,” offered Nomvula.
A few feet in front of my bed stood a soundproof door that led to a private entertainment lounge. There were two hampers of chocolate lying on the leather sofas inside the lounge. There was a fridge next to the sofas. On the cabinet above the fridge there was a basket filled with an assortment of fresh fruit. On top of the basket there was a small card that had “Bem Vindo no Brasil!” written on it in silver. On the back of the card there was a voucher for complimentary Caipirinhas at the rooftop pool bar. The entertainment lounge led to a balcony that faced the Copacabana beachfront.
I walked onto the balcony and admired the view. The sky was clear blue that day, and the sun was shining. There was a soft breeze blowing through the palm trees that lined Avenida Oceana. Below, some people were jogging along the beachfront.
Across the road from the hotel there was a neatly raked section of beach with a short row of manned service tables, across which the hotel slogan was printed in blue. A few metres in front of the tables there was a cluster of sunbeds and parasols.
“That's for the guests. If you go down there they give you a parasol and a beach stand,” said Nomvula as she pointed over the balcony. “And they can bring you drinks and towels.”
By the time we arrived at the canteen, Lerato, my father and Tamara had already started eating. Nomvula and I went up to the buffet and sat down at the table.
“I heard you were living the life, hey Anne?” said my brother. “How was Argentina?”
“It was fun” I replied. “But also a lot of hard work.”
“Why? What were you doing?” he asked.
“I had to do a finance internship, and then I had two months to write a dissertation in Spanish,” I replied.
“Did you finish it though?” he asked.
“Just barely,” I confessed.
“Well done,” he said. “I got a new car, hey!”
“Um, excuse me?” interjected Tamara. “I thought the car was meant for running errands?”
“Oh, ja” said Lerato as he scratched his head. “Mum said I only got the car for getting good grades. And it's for running errands and driving to class.”
“Errands, eh!” said my father as Nomvula cleared her throat. “You must be joking. The other day I asked you to pick my file up from work, and what happened?”
“I was out of the city,” replied Lerato. “Nomvula, do you remember?”
“No comment,” replied Nomvula.
My father shook his head and went back to reading.
“Well, the last time I saw Lerato he was working very hard,” I said.
“Thank-you Anne,” said Lerato. “I just finished Matric,you know.”
“Yes, I heard,” I said. “Congratulations. What do you want to study?”
Lerato and I carried on talking about school and university. Tamara had a few things to add about Nomvula's good performance at school. My father asked me about my flight, and life in London. After that he went back to reading his newspaper. Later on we had lunch and supper at the hotel. In the evening, Lerato and I went out to a club in Lapa, and stayed there until the early hours of the morning. By the time we got back to the hotel, breakfast was being served. Lerato went straight to his suite while I went up to the rooftop terrace. The lift opened straight onto the cocktail bar. There was a swimming pool and a line of beach beds to the left of the bar. I walked past the pool, to the end of the deck, and when I looked down I saw the beachfront. A few seconds later I turned around, looked up at Corcovado Mountain and saw the Christ the Redeemer statue in the distance.
“Anne,” I heard Tamara call. “Come and have breakfast.”
When I turned around I saw Tamara sitting at a poolside table, waving at me. She was wearing a big round straw hat.
“Good Morning Tamara!” I said.
I sat down opposite Tamara and ordered breakfast. She told me she had heard that Lerato and I had gone out the night before.
“Sho!” she remarked. “Lerato is hung-over! I didn't know you guys were going out, and I was worried. You are the eldest; I expect you to be more responsible.”
“I'm sorry Tamara. You're right. It won't happen again,” I said.
Breakfast arrived, and Tamara stayed seated until I had finished eating. We talked, and then I went to my room to sleep. That afternoon, we all went to Barra Shopping to buy Christmas presents. When we arrived at the door of the shopping centre, Tamara turned to me.
“The children seem a bit stressed,” she said, “I think I'll take them around on my own.”
We agreed to meet two hours later. My father and Lerato went one way, Tamara and Nomvula went another way, and I shopped alone. Two and half hours later, I returned to our meeting point. Lerato and Tamara were waiting for me. My father and Nomvula had already gone to the car.
“You're an hour late!” said Lerato. “Where were you?”
“Sorry guys, I got carried away,” I replied. “There were so many shops.”
The next day was Christmas. At breakfast, Nomvula, Lerato and I opened our presents. Nomvula and I each received a necklace, and Lerato got a book voucher. At midday, Nomvula and I went to the beach and swam. Lerato went surfing. When we were finished, we lay in the sun until we dried off. We had lunch at one of the restaurants on the beach. In the evening, the hotel held a Christmas dinner accompanied by a live samba band. I got dressed, and just as I was about to put on my earrings, the phone rang.
“Hello?” I said as I held the phone to my ear.
“Hello Anne,” Tamara replied. “Please, come to my suite.”
I brushed my hair and headed down there.
“It's me,” I said as I knocked on the door.
“Come in,” replied Tamara.
Tamara was sitting in an armchair at the opposite end of the room. As I walked in she gestured towards a chair to my right.
“Have a seat,” she said calmly.
“What's wrong?” I asked as I sat down.
“Anne, how many of your friends can live with you for more than a month?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I've seen people like you – and they end up alone and drunk!” Tamara said. “Anne, your dad is a brand. If he were to break his hand tomorrow he would have no way of earning money. And if something were to happen to your father, I wouldn't give you the kind of lifestyle that you lead. I have set him up in terms of long-term dividends, but he needs to save.”
“Am I offending you in some way?” I asked.
“You take all these trips! Your siblings love you to bits but they're starting to get fed up. You always have to be the centre of attention, you always have to be in control, and you always fight! That's why nobody tells you how they really feel about you Anne! You twist stories and you manipulate your dad because you want him all to yourself! Anne, your dad has no life savings. You are going to end up alienating your father emotionally. At least I have sisters who love me. You have no one! You are all alone, and life is going to be difficult for you, my darling. If I were to die tomorrow, my children would be taken care of financially. I can't say the same for you,” said Tamara. “I don't think your Uncle Frank would put up with this.”
A few moments later, my father walked into the room. He had a book in one hand, and a towel around his neck.
“Fantastic gym, eh!” he said as he made for the bathroom. “Have you tried it out Anne?”
I left the suite and went up to the restaurant. I sat down at the dinner table that had been set aside for us. A few minutes later, my father came up to the table and sat down next to me. I told him what Tamara had said. Shortly afterwards, Tamara joined us.
“Why did you tell Anne that if I die there'll be nothing for her?” he asked as Tamara sat down.
“She's lying. Anne is always twisting stories and making things up,” she said. A tear rolled down her cheek. “I'm actually quite hurt. Anne, why did you tell your dad this? Mustn’t I discipline you?”
With that, Tamara stood up again and went back to her suite. A few minutes later, Nomvula and Lerato arrived. After a while, Tamara came back and we started eating. It was a fairly short Christmas dinner, and once it was over we all went to bed.
The next day we took a trip to the Christ the Redeemer statue. There was a long line in front of the ticket stand. I went forward to check the front of the line.
“Hey,” said Lerato, “Nomvula was in front of you.”
I stepped aside and let Nomvula step in front of me. We bought our tickets and took a cable car up Corcovado Mountain. We walked around the Christ the Redeemer statue and took a few family photographs. Shortly afterwards, we took a shuttle to Sugar Loaf Mountain. We ate lunch, and during the meal I spoke to my father.
“Dad, can we go out for a drink together at some point? There are some things I would like to discuss with you,” I said.
“Anne, whatever we do has to include the whole family,” replied my father as he flicked to the next page of his book.
In the evening I took the family to a traditional Brazilian restaurant in Rio Vermelho. We watched the sun set over the beach as we ate our food.
The next day we went to Ipanema beach. My father sat at the table in a pair of beach shorts and read a book while Lerato and Nomvula played on the shore. I found a quiet patch of sand with a parasol and a beach chair. I lay in the sun. In the meantime, Tamara sat at the table in dark blue jeans, a sunhat, and a stripy black and white shirt.
The following day was our last in Rio de Janeiro. My family and I went on a cruise that left Rio de Janeiro port in the morning. A live samba band played music on the boat. Throughout the cruise, the crew served Caipirinhas and seafood snacks. After a few hours, the boat docked at an island that had schools of dolphins swimming around it. Nomvula, Lerato and I swam for about an hour before the captain called everyone back to the boat and we headed back to the mainland. We spent the afternoon at the hotel. A few hours later we had supper and went to bed.
In the morning we checked out of the hotel. A driver was standing outside, waiting to take us to Ilha Bela. When we arrived at Ilha Bela, we checked into a posada. Every morning we would all head out to one of the nearby beaches and spend the day there. My father would sit and read his books in his beach shorts while my siblings snorkelled. I swam and chatted to the locals by the shore. Tamara always sat next to my father and watched our belongings.
In the afternoon of the day before New Year’s Eve, I was wading in the water, a few metres away from our table.
“Tamara?” I asked. “Aren't you going to swim?”
“Later, my dear” she replied. “I'm just resting.”
On New Year’s Eve we went to a quiet, northern beach, and then an Italian-Brazilian restaurant for lunch. I ordered a seafood dish while my siblings ordered pizza. Tamara ordered a starter to precede her main; my father had pasta. Lerato and I fiddled with our phones while we waited for the food to arrive.
“Anne, can I see your phone? asked my father. “What make is that?”
Just then I received a funny text massage. I began to giggle as I read it. A few moments later I noticed a tear rolling down my father's cheek.
“Dad?” I said as I motioned towards another table.
We got up and went to a table on the other side of the room.
“What's the matter Dad?” I said, patting his arm.
“You didn't let me see your phone,” he muttered. “I think I'm going to cut you off emotionally.”
A few minutes later, we returned to the table and started eating. I didn't have much of an appetite, so I picked at my food. In the evening I put on a burnt-orange mini-dress, which I had bought in Rio de Janeiro, and wore it for supper. At the supper table I didn't feel like eating either. Before we ordered our food, my father excused himself to go to the bathroom. Nomvula and Lerato ate a pizza. Shortly afterwards, they browsed around one of the nearby shops for a pair of sunglasses.
“Nice dress,” Tamara whispered to me. “That dress should be mine.”
A few moments later, my father arrived back from the bathroom. I told him and Tamara that I was working hard at university, and that I was looking forward to graduating. My father pulled me to one side and congratulated me.
“Very good Anne,” he said, “but I think your mum may have a point. You should learn how to be more considerate. Work on it.”
Fritz and I spoke every night throughout the holiday. The evening of Dad’s remark about my learning to be more considerate, I received an email from Fritz asking if I wanted to have a Full English breakfast with him.
“Where and when?” I typed.
“In London,” replied Fritz a few seconds later.
Fritz attached a copy of his ticket to the email. The ticket confirmed that he was scheduled to arrive an hour after I arrived in London.
On the night of the third of January, my father, Tamara, Lerato, Nomvula and I made our way to the airport. I remember feeling exhausted. I was emotionally and physically drained, and I was glad to be heading back to London. My family was scheduled to board their flight an hour after mine left. Once I had checked in, they escorted me to my gate. My father, Tamara and Nomvula gave me a hug. Lerato stood back while I joined the queue and boarded the plane.