Each time I returned from Africa, I was torn in two a little bit more. I felt disconnected from all that was taking place around me. I could have stood still in the middle of Oxford Street as crowds of people jostled and pushed their way past, immune to them all.
Stepping away from Europe, and looking at England from the outside in, had made me appreciate it more. I was aware of my own accident of birth, that I had grown-up with opportunities that others did not have, and that, from this, I could carve out new ones. Almost everything that I did was linked in some way to Africa. Africa would not let me go, and I didn't want it to. I let my students know about it, I wrote about education in Kenya, I started a masters in the same field, I ran a charity that worked there and when I was 25, I promised myself that I would move there in the year that I turned 30.
I lasted until 29.
It was R, my man in the airport cafe, who, in the end, was my trigger. Five minutes, one plane ride and an exchange of business cards became a three month, long distance romance and after we had spent only a week together, I resigned from my job at London's most prestigious education magazine to make a life in Kenya with him.
'You're moving, aren't you?' interrupted Mum when I called with another anecdote from Kenya.
'Yes,' I said.
'When?' asked Mum.
My mum, like everyone else, was not surprised. Either by the thought of her only daughter decamping to Kenya, which she had known would happen one day, or by the outcome of my whirlwind affair with R. For me to even mention somebody was noteworthy and I had mentioned R from the beginning.
By the time I flew home, I was in talks with a newspaper editor in Nairobi and had six weeks to plan my move: five months, one week and one day after R and I had first met. The nearness of my impending departure, this time with a veiled sense of permanence hanging over it, hit my mum a little more. But she was also happy, and I suspect, relieved, that I had met R.
When I told her over lunch at an Italian in Bloomsbury, Mum's smile had grown with everything I said. Most mothers might have had a few reservations about some of those things, but mine was at last able to contemplate (I could tell) a future filled with a potential son-in-law and even grandchildren, which have been in demand for some time. The fact that all of this would probably unfold on a different continent was, at this stage, a mere inconvenience.
'I've met someone.'
Mum smiled more.
'He's South African.'
Mum nodded, still smiling.
'He lives in Kenya...'
'Ok,' smiled Mum.
Mum kept smiling, unperturbed.
'He has two daughters...'
And so I swapped London for Kisumu, which few in their right mind would ever do. My abiding memory of Kisumu was the occasion from some years before when my quiet hotel had unexpectedly transformed itself into a grimy, night time brothel. Prostitutes knocked on my door, the toilet growled on and off all night and overflowed and the music in the upstairs bar was so loud that it drowned out even my headphones as I tried to listen to U2.
As the plane descended into a darkened Nairobi, a heightened sense of all that I would miss, moments back home that I would not be part of and a feeling of loss before loss, swirled in my mind but I was certain, too, that this was all how it was supposed to be.
It was fate, said R, that we met.