I was never one for climbing trees. Never nimble enough. Heavy-footed, clumsy, lacking the agility of other children. So the tree at the end of my grandmother’s garden, the tree adjoining the cut, the path through from her street to the little shop round the corner where you could buy chocolate buttons, remained unclimbed (by me, at least). Summer passed, and summer after summer. I grew taller, more awkward, and while I would play in the park at the front of her house, on the swings, and on the roundabout, and on the rocking horse, I’d never climb the tree.
and then one summer, one holiday, dared by a cousin, I clambered up, grasping at branches, and managed to get up, managed to balance on a branch as high as the peak of the roof of the shed in her back guard. I sat on that branch watching her exit the back door, peg out the washing. I sat there, uncomfortably shuffling, as she came out of the kitchen shouting that it was time for lunch. You could smell the soup, a thick lentil soup made with chicken stock.
I never climbed it again.
And years passed and I got older, and the summer of 1988 we didn’t go to my grandmother’s to stay. Instead, we were despatched, billeted to relatives around the country, because my Grandfather was ill. My grandfather, a tall, gentle voiced, dark haired man, was ill, losing weight, his voice a croak where once it was mellifluous and loving. Cancer was killing him and we were not there, not playing in the park, not climbing the tree. And he died. And we cried. And life changed for all of us. Holidays were never quite the same. But that first year was the most difficult.
And that is why on the day the plane fell on the town, my sisters were there. That’s why I was there just before Christmas, conscious of the stench of kerosene, standing in the kitchen looking past the tree at the top of my grandmother’s garden at the houses to the rear, the houses where windows were smashed, the houses where one seat – visible from my grandmother’s kitchen – was stuck, lodged in a window, the left arm of its occupant lolling to the side; looking past the tree to the hillside to the rear of those houses, where bright sheets and markers were randomly scattered.
And those days after I watched and read lots, watched and read as much as I could to work out what had happened, what on earth had gone on. I was drawn to the coverage, but it didn’t make me feel better, didn’t switch off the dreams. But I couldn’t look away from the stuff. And so soon after, a few days after a muted Christmas, I read Time magazine, and there in the pages was a picture of the tree, and in it, a child, so high.