We sat in the thronging forecourt. Uncle was
away, stocking up on duty-free. Mr Steinberg
had a terrible fear of flying. He’d scrupulously
avoided planes for his entire life. This was
different. I tried to calm Mr Steinberg’s qualms.
But his boarding pass trembled in his hand.
William was kicking his seat, restless to go.
I felt myself losing grip. Suddenly Uncle returned,
clutching heavy bags. The bottles clinked like a
guilty secret. It was time to seek out our departure
gate. William rushed off to find a baggage trolley.
I squeezed Mr Steinberg’s fingertips. He stood,
straightening his back. You could feel the resolve
emanating from his body. Our little party pushed
through the crowds. We rode the moving escalator.
Our journey had really commenced.
Minutes dragged. Hours became insurmountable.
I scored deep lines into my calendar, delighted
when each day was done. Mr Steinberg didn’t
openly show his impatience, although his hands
trembled more. Uncle organised our travel
insurance and chose our in-flight meals,
vegetarian for me. I packed my last bits and
pieces, and sat on my suitcase to secure the
lock. There were three tiresome days to kill.
I felt I might explode. I’d worn out my guide book,
the pages were so thumbed that some of the
typescript had faded. So I burrowed my head
into my pillow, hoping sleep would catch me,
and wing me forward a few hours.
Eddie and I were officially history. He was the one
to break it off. I felt tremendous relief. Our thing
had fizzled away, and got ugly. It was simply an
embarrassing encumbrance now. I was glad to
devote my time to our forthcoming journey. I’d
leafed through every page of the guide book. I
had even digested the street map of Cape Town.
I felt understood the city’s heart. Moshe had called
to report that he was safely home. The telephone
line echoed and Mr Steinberg wasn’t able to hear
much. Uncle ensured our passports were in order.
He booked an airport shuttle. The flight departed
late. From our storeroom, I pulled out a battered
suitcase. It had once belonged to Mother. I
brushed off some dusty webs, and began to pack
my smaller items. The case already bulged. I
stowed it neatly below my bed. Mr Steinberg did
likewise. I could almost smell the aviation fuel now,
imagine the immense iron bird throttling down the
Mr Steinberg said he couldn’t bear any painful
farewells. So when it was time for Moshe to
leave, Uncle ferried him to the airport alone.
After all, it was only a matter of weeks before
we’d be reunited in Cape Town. When Moshe
had gone, Mr Steinberg was sullen. We sat
together in the semi-darkness. It was painful
to speak. I thought of making consoling
noises, but silence seemed better. After some
time, Mr Steinberg announced that he was
going to bed. It was early. I nodded my head
understandingly. My beautiful friend shuffled
in his slippers toward the staircase. He heaved
an enormous sigh as he mounted the first
step. I wished Mr Steinberg a gentle good
night. I blew him a kiss. He didn’t hear or see.
He’d been swallowed by a terrible sadness.
Eddie had sent me a swathe of text messages.
He was sore to be excluded from our
adventure. I felt pity. But I didn’t reply. Eddie
couldn’t really hope that Mr Steinberg would
fork out five hundred pounds on him. I was
family. Eddie was an employee, who was sort
of my boyfriend. I knew I was harsh. But the
truth was the truth. Moshe felt less bad about
leaving. His Father would be hot on his heels.
We would all stay in South Africa for at least
one month. Mr Steinberg was no longer vexed
about his shop. He’d put it on the property
market. Family matters, he said, were
paramount. In any case he didn’t need to
work. He’d be a free man, at liberty to go
where he pleased in his twilight years. As for
his health, Mr Steinberg felt swell. I doubted
this. I noticed how ashen, how limp he was,
after a day at full-throttle. But I didn’t pour
cold water on his plans. Because my beautiful
Mr Steinberg deserved happiness.
We would all travel to Cape Town. I couldn’t
help thinking this would be the most gigantic
expense. But Mr Steinberg insisted. He’d
been saving for his entire life. It was a unique
opportunity. Uncle got online and purchased
us economy tickets. Moshe was absolutely
thrilled. I borrowed a guide book from the
library and read about fabulous lion parks
and endangered gazelles. Moshe would
reserve us a holiday apartment just outside
the city. I circled the departure date vigorously
on my calendar. It was relatively soon. Mr
Steinberg was to meet his grandson.
I strategised perfect reconciliations with
Aaron and Gustav too. Nothing was
Moshe would return home soon. I feared
this might break Mr Steinberg. Instead he
started to sketch out a trip to South Africa.
I seriously doubted Mr Steinberg’s health
was up to a long-haul adventure like this.
Moshe, however, humoured his Father. He
spoke eloquently about his adopted country,
until I could see the frolicking baboons on
Table Mountain, and smell the great veldt.
Resolution hardened in Mr Steinberg’s dim
eyes. It wasn’t some impossible folly. His
last excursion, Mr Steinberg vowed, would
be a fabulous journey to meet his grandson.
We thrust our way through the cinema’s
double-swing doors, out into the glitzy
London borough. The magic of celluloid
slowly ebbed away. Uncle raised his hand
to hail a taxi. Soon we were bouncing down
the lanes, heading to the railway terminus.
Once on the train, we occupied a whole
carriage. Mr Steinberg nuzzled his head
into the hard upholstery. He looked spent.
As we clanked over the river, I spied a couple
of tug boats. They shone like illuminated
water beetles. Satisfied, I kicked off my
uncomfortable shoes, folded my knees
up under my skirt, ready to snooze.
We strolled in the gathering gloom. A boutique
cinema in Mayfair was screening Casablanca.
It was Mr Steinberg’s favourite movie. It was
a black and white film. This surely meant two
hours of nail-biting boredom. Instead I was
swept away. The corny lines were strangely
beautiful, Rick was tragic, complex, dashing.
I wished I’d brought a hanky. The grown men
were craggily silent. Nobody scrunched their
popcorn. When the end credits rolled, there
was a lump in my throat. As the house lights
came up, I spied a big tear rolling down Mr
Steinberg’s wrinkled cheek. He had surely
smooched through this movie with his late
wife. This sudden realisation brought another
shivery moment to this sublime afternoon.
We cartwheeled high above the city. It
was a bizarre feeling, which I didn’t totally
enjoy. Mr Steinberg, however, was enamoured
and Moshe whooped at the stunning views.
The outing was proving a success. By midday
Mr Steinberg was drooping. We crossed the
grey choppy river. Uncle proposed a nip of
whiskey in this dinghy pub. I had a warm, flat
lemonade. As he drank, Mr Steinberg perked
up, unleashing on Moshe a deluge of bubbly
words. The three men chortled happily,
munching on roasted, salted peanuts. Mr
Steinberg asked if a person could still get a
fondue in this town. This perplexed me. Uncle
smirked happily, something was tickled deep
inside him. Outside, we pounced in a taxi,
and roared away to seek lunch.