The Other Side of the World

By Jackie Kay

Just before my mum went to the other side of the world for six weeks, our rabbit Harvey went missing. Harvey was an albino rabbit with red eyes who was eleven years old. I was eleven, the same age as Harvey, when my mum went off to New Zealand for 42 days. I followed the route on my Atlas. She was stopping at Singapore and Sydney before arriving in Christchurch nearly three days later. I did the arithmetic: six weeks equals forty two days equals one thousand and eight hours. I tried to divide one thousand and eight by forty two but that was the summer when I struggled with long division. Long multiplication was so much easier. I couldn’t understand why. The numbers seemed to hang in the air with long division; I never knew where to put them.

Those six weeks were the longest time ever. It was a hot, slow summer. Days slipped into days, nights sweated into nights. I couldn’t divide them. I tossed and turned in the sheets. We played hide and seek in the street and no one called me in. My brother and I stayed for some time with an old comrade outside Edinburgh, a little old man who made us a fabulous gooseberry pie, who ate a raw egg every morning whisked with milk and who peed into a pint milk jug in the middle of the night. When we got back to Glasgow, my mum had been away for only 21 days. ‘We’re half way through the time,’ I told my brother. He went fishing; that took up some slow days. I can’t remember what I did. The clock’s face looked innocent sometimes, other times sly. Sometimes the hands sneaked about and stole the minutes. I found a ladybird in the grass and watched it crawl across our back garden like a moving stud earring.

When my mum had been away for just over three weeks, we found Harvey. He was buried in our back garden, barely covered. His neck was snapped. My brother came into the kitchen and said to my Dad, ‘I found Harvey, he’s been strangled.’ My brother’s face had turned green. We buried Harvey properly and planted a little wooden cross way down in the wilder part of our back garden.

My mum called a week later. She was living in a different time and we couldn’t talk for long. It was the morning where she was. She said, ‘I’m missing my family so much, I’m crying myself to sleep at night. It’s too long. It’s too far.’

Finally, miraculously, the last of the days crawled towards the end of the tunnel. The heavy heat lifted and a breeze came back. We went to pick up my mum at Glasgow airport. On the way back, she’d stopped in Singapore, got a new stylish haircut, been given half a pineapple filled with exotic fruits, papaya, mango... ‘I felt I died and gone to heaven,’ she said of her extraordinary fruit bowl.

In the car on the way back home, my brother said, ‘We found Harvey. He was strangled.’

‘No! When was this?’

‘About three weeks ago.’

My mum looked at us as if her children had grown up without her. ‘Never again,’ she said, clasping me to her chest in front of the three- bar fire that evening, chilly with the travelling. ‘Those six weeks were an eternity. I thought it would never end.’ My dad put a record on the gramophone and played a twelve bar blues. My mum got up on her feet and they danced a slow dance around the living room. I smiled properly for the first time in forty two days.