The wooden jetty is a mile long. It pulls away from the fingers of the mangroves that border the small, windy town on the Indian Ocean. As kids, we fished for Mulloway there, sitting on the jetty’s broad beams, our legs dangling and our toes pointing to Africa. In 1907 my great grandfather was seen running along this same jetty. It had started to rain; he told someone that he was going back to town. His name was John Travers and he was never seen again.
When it berthed at the next town 300 miles away, police searched the ship he had been meeting; they spent days combing the waters around the jetty. No sign of the ex-pearler was ever found. In the town he left a wife of 34 and a little girl born just a few months earlier. The baby girl was my grandmother. She and her mother would eke out a living in the lonesome, dusty town in a small shop near the Settlers Hotel.
In 1915 my great grandmother tried to return to Scotland where she had been born but the authorities turned her back saying the trip was too dangerous in a time of war. She returned to the town and died there in 1945 famous for her cakes and her iron will.
The little girl grew up and became a teacher. She taught in tiny Australian bush schools during the twenties and thirties. She was a romantic who read the Rubayit of Omar Kayam and Locksley Hall by Tennyson. She married an unromantic mechanic who rose to be Speaker of the House of Representatives. She had three children and one of them was my mother. Then she got chronic arthritis and spent years in a wheelchair racked with pain, unable even to hold a pen. She never spoke of her long lost father.
In 1993, after 86 years of life, she lay in the small town’s hospital, the same small town where she had arrived in 1907 as a baby. She was slipping in and out of consciousness, sometimes lucid, at other times vague. One day she called my mother to her bed. She had on her face that look of someone who realises something for the first time. “What is it, Mum?” asked her daughter.
The old lady smiled. “I think I’m finally going to meet my father,” she said.