***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof*** Copyright © 2016 Jennifer McVeigh I Mombasa, Kenya. The steward has said we will dock at 9am, but I am too excited to sleep, and I walk onto deck in the dark, long before the sun comes up, watching for the first sight of land. I pull a packet of cigarettes from my coat pocket, light one and inhale, smoke curling up into the warm night sky. My heart beats out a rhythm born of long anticipation. After six years I am finally coming home. The lamp casts a small pool of light onto a black metal bench. Someone has left a book behind, and I pick it up. The Settler's Guide to Up-Country Swahili: Exercises for the Soldier, Settler, Miner, Merchant and their Wives . I open it and cast my eye over the introduction. This book aims at teaching, in a simple way, just that degree of Swahili that is understood and talked by the average intelligent up-country native. A curious use of adjectives, not something you would find in England. It is a long time since I have used my Swahili and I wonder how much will come back to me. The book starts with greetings, and I turn the phrases over silently on my tongue, enjoying the familiar rhythm of the words Jambo Bwana. Jambo Memsaab. Habari Gani hapa? Habari mzuri tu, Bwana . What's the news here? Only good news, Bwana . I slip the book into my pocket, unconsciously reciting the phrases as I stare out into the dark, waiting for our arrival. An hour later the sun rises huge and heavy from the horizon. Through a screen of mist I make out the shadow of Mombasa island. A couple wander onto deck, clutching cups of coffee and bread rolls, whispering excitedly. My eyes are fixed on what lies ahead. Green coconut palms and a scattering of white buildings emerge out of water so blue that I realise I have forgotten the meaning of colour. The sky is clear and limitless. In England - a country in the grip of rationing, where the sun struggles to illuminate even the clearest winter day - no one has understood my descriptions of the sky in Kenya. My skin burns in the early morning sun, my neck damp beneath the weight of my hair. The white sails of the Arab dhows soar like the wings of huge, prehistoric birds, their decks crammed so full of Africans, grinning and shouting, clinging to every mast, that sinking seems an inevitability. They shout up their greetings in Swahili. Karibu . Welcome. And I grin down at them, waving. We dock, and I step giddily down the gangplank into a city that smells of fish, of salt, of acrid wood smoke and sewage - the smell of a city whose people live life outdoors under a hot sun - down into the sweltering heat of the customs sheds where I am left waiting, sweating for a few hours before being released onto the small, crowded streets of Mombasa's port. Bougainvillea tumble over white walls, purple, orange, crimson red, amidst the trumpets of white datura flowers and clusters of pink hibiscus. Dhow captains spread their intricately woven carpets on the street for sale, beating out the dust in thick clouds. Porters in bare feet and white lunghis pad across the hot cobbles between piles of old newspaper and fish bones, past the Arab men dressed in white robes, who sit on low wooden stools drinking tea. I can smell roasting fish rising from a charcoal fire tended by two sailors in brightly coloured kikoys, who stand prodding the coals, spitting out jets of red betel nut into the street, while others unload their cargo - boxes of fish, dates, henna, great piles of copper wire. Indian women in saris gossip in close groups. I stand and watch, dazzled by so much noise and colour, happiness soaring inside me. I have escaped England. I am back in Africa. But I am not home yet. There are still four hundred miles to travel, up country, before I see the farm, before I see my father. " Aleela ," a voice says behind me, and a hand touches me on the shoulder. Aleela - she cries in Swahili . It was the name the Africans had given me as a baby, when I was born healthy, after my mother had given birth to a child who never breathed. I turn and see Kahiki, our headman, standing there, his stick in one hand. Jambo I say, smiling as hard as I have ever smiled in my life. Jambo Sana he answers, his eyes smiling back at me, grasping my outstretched hand in his sinewy one. And - just like that - I have come home. II We come out onto the main road, into a cacophony of beeping and shouting. There has been an accident. A truck carrying pigs has turned over in the middle of the road and the traffic is at a standstill. A crowd of Africans gather round, watching. Tight rolls of pig flesh squeeze out of the slatted sides, their squeals sharpening the gloopy midday heat. Downers my uncle used to call them; pigs which were all cut up. He owns Uplands - the bacon factory which supplies Kenya's Europeans and safari outfits with the sausages, hams and pork pies that remind them of home. We nudge our way past, the pigs grunting as they struggle to find a footing on the small slither of space which forms the side panel of the truck. Those who do find a foothold on the floor, are being crushed under the weight of those on top. The truck emits a dark, dense heat, palpable with the wet stench of their panic, and the dry chafing of their bristles. They must have been on their way to the train which would take them to the factory. They'll be loaded anyway, once they get the truck back on the road; and finished off when they get there. I look away, struggling to suppress the memories which are threatening to take shape inside me. I have forgotten this other side of Kenya: a raw physicality that has no shame in the inevitability of pain. The jeep is parked just beyond the truck. Kahiki throws my luggage into the back and I see a man of about my father's age, with a closely cut blond beard, and a dark, suntanned face, making his way through the crowd towards us. He is wearing tattered khaki shorts and desert boots, and he holds a black camera in one hand. He is broad and tall, and moves easily, though his face is creased with sun and age. "You're Rachel?" He holds out a large hand, and grasps mine in his. "Nathaniel Logan. Good to meet you." "Hi," I say, unsure why he is here. His voice has the mellow, slow drawl of an American. He is a curious mix of down at heel, and well kitted out. He gets into the driver's seat, and I realise, with a swallow of disappointment, what I hadn't trusted myself to ask Kahiki - that my father has not come to meet me. Nathanial Logan leans over and opens the passenger door with one hand, "Your father asked me to pick you up. He's stuck at the farm. They've had some trouble with the harvest." He stows his camera in a box, then glances up at me, standing in the street. "Hey kiddo, it's not so bad. I won't bite." I swing myself up into the passenger seat. Kahiki is in the back. The American starts the engine, and hands me a bunch of bananas, toy size and sunflower yellow. I tear one off the bunch, peel it and bite into an almost impossible sweetness - after three weeks of tinned food on the ship, the sensation of something so sun soaked and sweet makes me catch my breath. "The truck turned over an hour ago." Nathanial pulls the car out into the road, his hand on the horn, the crowd parting to let us through. "Why don't they let the pigs out?" "They don't want even more of a mess." Once we have manoeuvred onto the clear road, he looks at me and smiles. "First time back in a long while?" "Six years." "I'll bet you missed it like hell." I smile back at him. He has just about summed it up. The white houses of Mombasa give way to lush vegetation, banana palms and fruit trees. He must sense the question in my silence, because he says, "I was coming as far as Nairobi anyway. I needed to buy some gear." He gestures at the back of the Land Rover and I see a tarpaulin strapped over the boot. "Trying to keep the dust out. Damn stuff corrodes the kit." "How do you know my father?" "I've been staying at Matebele for the last couple of months." "With the Markhams?" Matebele was a farm about an hour's drive from Kisima. Lillian Markham had been my mother's closest friend, and we had written to each other over the last six years. "What are you doing up there?" Our corner of Kenya was out of the way, and we rarely had visitors who weren't farmers. "I'm working for the American Museum of Natural History. Trying to track white rhino. I've found some good specimens up in Laikipia, near the Markham's farm." "To hunt?" "To photograph. This man - " He turns in his seat and grins at Kahiki, " -found them for me. One of the best trackers I've ever met." Kahiki nods at Nathaniel, which is as close as he comes to smiling. He is Dorobo. He is small and strong, and made of muscle. He has quick eyes and clever hands. He carved wooden toys for me as a child, his knife shaping the wood into a lioness or baboon that was so real it was as though his hands had coaxed it into life. He knew the land better than anyone else on the farm - he could track any bird or animal. He could find the claw marks of a leopard on a yellow barked acacia, and tell you how long before he had climbed down, and when he had last made a kill. He hunted with a bow and arrow, and I used to love watching the flick of the thin arrow floating high up into the air, its soft flight belying the deadly accuracy of its aim. It was Kahiki who set the trap for a lioness who was raiding my father's cattle; who found an elephant tusk buried deep in the earth which weighed nearly ninety pounds, the largest ever recorded on our land. "You used to take me into the forest, and call for the honey guide bird - do you remember?" I ask Kahiki in Swahili. "Yes, Aleela. And you would not eat the honey in the forest for fear that the bees would come back for you." I laugh - remembering. "The honey guide would lead us to a hive nesting in the branches of a tree and Kahiki would rub sticks into fire, and smoke out the bees. When we had collected what we wanted we used to leave the comb for the honey guide - " I turn to Kahiki - "- You always said that the bird would next time lead us to a mamba if we did not." "And it is true." He replies, his yellowing brown eyes soft on mine. "Kahiki used to walk with my mother." I say, feeling a sliver of pain in remembering, but pleasure too in sharing this, like the turning of a tooth. I can see the sitting room where she worked at Kisima, the long shelf crammed full of strange objects gathered from the land. And the early morning walks along the narrow tracks that spun like spider's webs through the dense bush, Kahiki in front, his bow in one hand, my mother's footsteps just behind my own. "She used to collect things." "What kind of things?" "Fossils, bones, bits of stone. Anything that hadn't moved in a thousand years. That's what my father used to say." "She was interested in palaeontology?". "I don't know." I say, realising as I say it that there is very little that I do know. I knew her only as my mother; the feel of her hands, rough and warm against my skin, the dry smell of the sun on her hair, the quick laugh that transformed her face. "She used to say that the first humans came from Africa." I have not remembered it until now, and I realise that this is what Kenya will do for me. It will unlock those hidden places, and bring them out tight and full of pain. "It's not impossible. Darwin thought it might be true." He glances at me as he drives, "Are you interested in Natural History?" I shake my head. "I was a child when I left Kenya. I didn't know anything about Natural History." And as I say it I hear the bitter edge to my voice; that my mother eludes me; that I did not know her better. I turn in my seat, asking Kahiki about the farm, my father, his children, eager for any news he can give me, and happy to find that my Swahili is coming back to me. "They are good," Kahiki says, nodding his head, "All good Aleela, " but he is not a man who likes to talk, and I will have to wait until I am home to see how things are at the farm. We drive through the outskirts of Mombasa, past the corrugated shacks and road side stalls that make up the straggling edges of the city. Nathaniel overtakes two police jeeps, the officers dressed in soft khaki shirts tucked into holsters, rifles pointing in the air. One of the soldiers takes off his red beret and puckers his mouth in a silent whistle as we drive past, and I look away, embarrassed in front of Kahiki and the American. "What kind of trouble?" I ask, remembering what Nathaniel had said about the harvest. "A couple of nights ago someone broke into the barns at Kisima. Your father had just brought in the grain. They didn't take much - a few bags. The police are making enquiries." "Was anyone hurt?" The newspapers on the ship were littered with stories of Mau Mau - the secret society which had sprung up in Kenya. It was said that they wanted to unite the Kikuyu and overthrow the whites. "No," He glances at me, "it was more than likely a simple case of theft." But nothing more than a bag of sugar had ever gone missing at the farm. Who would risk breaking into my father's barns? When sleep washes over me I am standing by the dam at Kisima. My mother is kneeling on the bank with her back to me, slacks hitched, her fingers feeling for something buried in the earth. Her blond hair is plaited - the same plait she used to work into my own hair, my scalp tingling with the tug of her fingers. The sun glows through the fine hairs that have worked loose, and she draws one arm across her face to wipe the sweat from her eyes. I run towards her - Mama ! With a flood of relief I see that she has heard me, but as she turns the dream dissolves and I have not seen her face. I jolt awake. The car rattles over the road. Nathaniel Logan is driving, one elbow resting on the open window. I must have slept for longer than I thought. We are in open country. The plains of the central highlands stretch into the hazy distance like the shimmering, tawny back of a lion. Herds of wildebeest and zebra mingle in the long grass, and far off I can see elephant moving, their bodies silhouetted against the afternoon sky like dark storm clouds. The smell of the dry road, the rolling grasslands, the warmth of the sun against my skin make the last six years seem almost as though they were a dream. I draw a finger across my forearm, through the yellow dust that has settled on the blond hairs. My first night in England. I crept down the carpeted stairs of my grandparents' house, unable to sleep, unused to the sound of the rain spitting cold and damp against the window. "And you honestly believe she will be happy here?" My father was asking, unaware of me crouched on the stairs, listening. "Of course she will. This is the right place for her. Think of her education. The friends she will make." My grandmother, a woman I had met only a few hours before, paused. "You can't be selfish about this Robert. She has lost her mother. She needs rest and the chance to recover. The stability of an English school. It's what she should have been given years ago. We can provide all of those things." I could hear her voice deftly untying the elaborate knot that links a parent to their child. "Papa," I had said carefully the next day, when I had him to myself, trying to articulate my concern. "Are you going back home?" "Don't let's think about it Rachel," he said. "But if you do -you'll take me with you. You won't leave me here?" He leaned down, held my head in his hands, and kissed my forehead. I had taken it as an agreement but a week later he was gone and my grandparents had enrolled me at a boarding school. You need to finish school , my father's letters had insisted, then you can come home , but I was twelve years old, bewildered and sick for home in an institution that smelled of bleach and wet plimsolls, where we undressed for strip washes once a week in the early morning dark, and our letters written home were strictly censored. The years looming ahead of me seemed unconquerable. It was as though I had been buried alive. There was always the promise that he would come visit me, but one year rolled into another and he never came; a new shipment of cattle from England; a fire in one of the barns; the long drought of '51. Managing Kisima - trying to break in its acres of rough country and extract a profit from them - took up all his time. The farm became the depository for all my dreams. The failures at school, the rigid discipline, the pining for my mother, the friends I made but was prepared too easily to lose, were resolved in my imagining of a homecoming. Finally the time came, my exams were over, but his letter, when it arrived, was completely unexpected. Don't think of coming back Rachel. Your life is in England, with your mother's family. You talk of home, but you have not been here since you were a child. Have you forgotten how isolated we are? Kisima has little to offer a girl of your age; no shops, no movie theatres, no opportunities; nothing but miles of uncut country. This is no place to build a life. It is too far from the people you are familiar with, and the world you have grown up in. The world you have grown up in . He thought of my childhood as England, but England meant nothing to me. Did he know that each of his letters had been filed away in a box which I kept under my bed at school? That I would wait until Sunday afternoon when all the other children were outside playing games, and lift the lid, inhaling the faint smell of incense and wood fires that carried me home, extracting - in the quiet of the dormitory - every last ounce of sharp pleasure that his letters could give me? I scarcely knew my grandparents. I had seen them for a brief few weeks every year - at Christmas and Easter - when I went to stay in the cold, dark, stone house on the outskirts of Hull, where the hours of the day ticked by mercilessly slowly. My grandmother asked me not to walk up onto the moor, forbid me from going into town on my own, and - either out of grief or disapproval - disliked me talking about Kenya. Their lives were quiet and fiercely conservative, dominated by the weekly church meetings, and the charity teas that my grandmother insisted I attend, dressed in long wool skirts and buttoned blouses. There was no life for me in Hull. Kisima was the only home I had known and its land was my inheritance. I wanted to see its colours, its people; I wanted to help my father on the farm as my mother had done. The day his letter arrived, I bought a ticket on a ship from Southampton to Mombasa, using the entirety of the money that my father had sent me on my 18th birthday. I wrote him a note and posted it from Southampton, telling him that I was coming home. Now I wonder what we will say to each other after so long. I am caught between an awkwardness that I have come back when he explicitly told me not to, and something else. He chose to leave me behind, decided not to take me home with him. When my mother died I lost two parents, and this betrayal sits sorely within me. A bullet with no exit wound. "We'll stay the night in Nairobi," Nathaniel says, when he sees I am awake. I nod in agreement; Kisima is too far from Mombassa make the drive in one day. We are at higher altitude here, and the air settles cool against my skin. We drive through the outskirts of town, past a white post and rail fence marking off the long gallops of Nairobi's race track. A man is walking in the road in front of us, behind a herd of sheep, a stick resting across his shoulders. Nathaniel slows the car behind them. The sheep stand bleating in the road, their wool filthy and matted, until the man beats the earth around them and they are stirred into scattered motion. We pass a sagging wire fence, children kicking a ball on a dusty patch of earth. Flat-topped acacias cast their latticed shade over huts nestled into the landscape, metal roves winking in the sun. We drive past Kikuyu women with babies tied to their backs, wrapped in scarves, walking into town. A donkey grazes on the side of the road, black barrels strapped to his sides, and beside him, under a lone tree, a man is resting. Clusters of green leaves emerge from the tangle of white thorns above him. His clothes are worn and tattered, and a panga is strung from his belt. "Where are we staying?" I ask, when he turns off the main road. The car rattles past the green lawns of a golf course. I don't remember this part of town. "The Muthaiga Club." "My father isn't a member," I am worried that he has got the wrong idea. The Muthaiga Country Club is for private members, the wealthy settlers of Kenya Colony; the second sons of English aristocrats who have been here for generations, not the farmers like my father who came out after the first war, and bought their fifty thousand acres with loans from the government. "It's alright. I've told them to expect you," He says. "I'm meeting clients there in the morning. We'll head off after that." The road takes us past a row of squat, single storey buildings behind freshly painted blue railings. There is something about the institutional neatness of the buildings, a coldness - like a premonition - which makes the hairs on my arms stand on end. "Is it a prison?" I ask, trying to get a better look. "Mathari Mental Hospital," Nathanial says, "For Kenya Colony's insane." "People who are mad?" "Mad, epileptic, and more than likely a handful who simply don't tow the line." He runs a hand over his beard, and shakes his head in mocking respect. "The codes of conduct in Kenya are unspoken but not to be transgressed." "What codes of conduct?" I ask, hearing the irony in his voice, but not quite understanding. He looks at me, is if assessing my age, as if he might have overestimated me. Then says - "It doesn't do to let the side down in Kenya. Europeans have to keep up appearances, set a good example to the African - no seedy living, no fraternising with the labour. And those who don't - well, the colony gets rid of them as best they can." Then it is behind us, and we are driving up to the Muthaiga Club - a deep pink building with white colonnades and a red tiled roof, bordered with immaculate lawns. It sits comfortably under the shade of acacias. Kahiki jumps out and hands our luggage down to the porter. "Eleven o'clock tomorrow?" Nathaniel asks in Swahili, shaking his hand. "Sawa sawa." Kahiki replies, nodding his goodnight, and walking around the back of the building to the African quarters. I follow Nathaniel Logan through the swing door of the club. Inside the walls are panelled with dark wood and lined with English hunting prints. The air is thick with cigar smoke and the low murmur of voices. We eat dinner at the hotel bar and I feel, for a moment, very alone. As if reading my thoughts, Nathaniel Logan asks, "When did you last see each other?" "My father?" He nods. "Not for six years." He pushes his plate away, and offers me a small, thin cigar from a silver case. I take one, and he leans forward to light it, then lights his own, drawing deeply, looking at me over clouds of dark smoke. "He never came to England?" I shake my head, giving in to the strength of the smoke, its grip on my lungs, the looseness it brings to my thoughts. It is strange to hear it articulated, my father's absence. Boarding school was full of girls who had been left behind. Our lot was unremarkable. "He sent you back to go to school?" "Partly," I say, breathing out smoke. "I went back when my mother died. He left me with my grandparents." He looks right at me. His gaze is too direct. I swallow down the sudden urge to cry. "He couldn't come. It was too difficult for him to get away from the farm." "Well, I'm sure that's true." He says, looking away and drawing on his cigar, but his words hold no reassurance. A man with a long, black moustache passes our table. He clasps a hand on Nathaniel Logan's shoulder. "Are you back in the land of the living?" "Not yet," Nathaniel says, shaking his head. "Damn it, Logan - why bury yourself in Laikipia with your cameras, when you could be on safari with me?" "Who is he?" I ask when the man has gone. "Just another English aristocrat, cast adrift in Africa. He's been trying to persuade me to track elephant for him. He wants a record set of tusks." "Do you hunt?" "I used to." "Why don't you go?" "Because I'm driving you up to your farm," Nathaniel says, smiling at me, and taking a long pull on his beer. "Besides, I don't go in for killing any more." He grinds his cigar out in the silver ashtray. "I've had my fun. I'll leave it to the rest of them." I realise that I like Nathaniel Logan. Years of boarding school have taught me to be wary of people who mould themselves too easily to the common cause, but he seems to keep himself just enough apart from people to make his own judgment. At eight o' clock a hush falls over the dining room. The men put down their cards, and the women stop their chatting. Across the room comes the sound of Big Ben chiming in London. It is the news broadcast from England, and the men and women strain forward in their seats to hear the voice, brittle with distance, emanating from the radio. The British Broadcasting Service, the sound of home, exorcises its power over all of us. There is news from England - a crash at an aviation display, the death of the first British pilot to exceed the speed of sound; the Ministry of Food announces the end - on Sunday - of thirteen years of tea rationing. At the end of the broadcast there is a local report from East Africa. Fifty-eight unexplained grass fires broke out today on farms around Nyeri, destroying thousands of acres of prime grazing. Local farmers are attributing the fires to the secret society Mau Mau. It follows reports of mass oathing ceremonies across the region, and the murder last week of several Kikuyu who refused to take the Mau Mau oath. A curfew has been imposed. Meanwhile the Roman Catholic Bishop at Nyeri declares that he will excommunicate any Catholic who supports the Mau Mau secret society or takes its oath. He confirmed that there had been desecration of pictures of Christ in the Nyeri area." On the ship the news of a secret society whose members have taken oaths to kill white men and throw them off their farms had seemed alarmist and unreal; there have been no reports of violence against Europeans, only against the Kikuyu who resist the movement. And yet - hearing it here in this small room clouded with the breath and smoke of the men and women whose lives like mine are intertwined with it - is like seeing a dark shape stir itself and shake off sleep. Nyeri is over a hundred miles from Kisima, but in Kenya a hundred miles is not such a great distance. Nathaniel Logan has his camera out of his case. He is standing against the wall of the room taking photographs. I see the scene through his lens - the women in their evening dresses, looking at each other with glittering eyes, the men leaning back in their chairs, cheeks reddened by whiskey, the waiters hovering in their red fezzes , their black faces carved into that familiar, unmoving attitude of subservience. "I thought you photographed animals," I say, when he comes back to the table. "Technically people are animals," he says, smiling and putting down his camera. "But I don't just work for the Museum. I write for newspapers." "About what?" "Archaeology, natural history, anything newsworthy." "And what will you write about this?" "That these good people feel under threat. That they will put whatever pressure is necessary on their government to protect them." "And will it?" "Protect them?" He puts the lens cap back on his camera. "We're seeing collective punishments, suppression of the Kikuyu press, closure of independent African schools. I'd say they were certainly trying." "Which is a good thing," I say, hearing the reticence in his voice. "I try to stay out of politics in this country." He rubs a hand over his beard and smiles ruefully at me. "Gets me into trouble." The man at the table next to us drains his glass of whiskey, pushes back his chair and says, to no one in particular, "This country is going to the fucking dogs." He limps out of the room. Later, in the small single room on the ground floor of the Muthaiga Club, the story of Briar Rose catches at the edges of my waking mind. She sleeps for a hundred years, but that isn't the magic. The magic is that the castle sleeps with her so that when she wakes the world is just as she left it - her mother, her father, even the animals are there just as they had been when tragedy struck. I want the farm to be that way, and the thought that it might not be is eating me alive. After all - my mother is dead. How can anything be the same again? Excerpted from Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.