We spent two hours yesterday searching for the CD of Anna’s photos that I’d put in a ‘safe place’. As I searched drawers and bookshelves and DVDs, my mounting panic wasn’t helped by Alfie shadowing me, occasionally asking: ‘Do you feel bad?’ Yes, I feel terrible. We find the CD in the kitchen. On the dresser. Possibly the first thing you would see if you reached for a plate, mug or any of the other items used on average five times a day. But I know I’ve begun to over-complicate the ‘safe place’ in my head because I continue to be haunted by the Missing Engagement Ring.
My heart starts racing in the middle of the night-I’ve been woken by the gap on the third finger of my left hand. It’s been there for months. I had the ring repaired soon after we went on our summer holiday. I haven’t worn it since-for no particular reason, I just got out of the habit. It’s only this week that the awful truth, which I may possibly have been blotting out, hits me. I’ve lost it.
Actually, I haven’t lost it-I’ve hidden it. Zam and I hid it together. We were about to leave for the airport when I decided that it wouldn’t be safe to wear the ring, which seemed to have grown slightly with the repairs, on a holiday that would be spent almost entirely in the sea. When we discussed it, I think we were standing in the kitchen. Zam said: ‘Now, this is a brilliant place to hide a ring.’
I tossed and turned, trying to remember where that brilliant place was and, as soon as it became a reasonable hour at which to wake the household, I began looking. I made the whole family join the search. We ran our fingers round the tops and bottoms of cupboards. We looked in every washbag (just in case I was hallucinating about the kitchen scene). We searched every pocket. We put ourselves in the mindset of thieves and wondered where they’d look.
We identified 100 brilliant places to hide a ring, but we found nothing. We began looking through the bags of lentils and pasta. Terrible thoughts reared up, such as ‘I’ve thrown it away in the out-of-date jar of pesto’.
A friend dropped in and said: ‘It’ll be in the pant drawer. Always is.’ No, it won’t, I shouted. We didn’t do the obvious. We did something really clever with it. I started praying to St Anthony. Zam suggested the only solution was for him to enter deep hypnosis so that he could regress to the moment when he identified our brilliant hiding place. He was about to start researching practitioners of this art when he got a text from Olive, who’s now spent a month in Cambodia, asking if we’d like to Skype.
We rushed for the computer, aborting the ring hunt. After several attempts, there she was. Her internet access appears to be at a hairdresser in Phnom Penh, which meant it was quite hard to hear her above the dryers or to concentrate on her time-lapsed disjointed words because of the backdrop of Cambodians having their hair set.
But still, there she is. On the other side of the world, having a fascinating time. We fire questions at her. She looks very relaxed. She’s befriended a Dane and an Italian and loves the tuk-tuks. She hasn’t run out of money -yet-and I’m anxious about the cost of this conversation, but she and Zam assure me that I shouldn’t be. We discuss the small trips she’s made and the food (lunch at work is inedible, but, having decided it would be the height of bad manners to leave any, she’s given more and more each day).
Then, she says: ‘Mum, can you send me a nit comb-all the children at the school have nits. And I’ve lost my phone. And someone nicked my shoes.’
‘Ol, can you remember where I hid my engagement ring?’
I ask. She remembers exactly. I keep being asked if I miss her, but there are times when she might as well be next door.
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