M is writing a novel, is passionate and committed. Every free moment that opens up she runs to the computer, dives back into her world of ghosts and empresses, translates French phrases, asks for help with spelling. I watch her devotion, jealous and amazed. Following all the advice of the best writers, she puts me to shame, has become my role model.

At the Indian Ocean, I watch Phil and the girls floating in the wide blue water. Their laughter carries across the wind, the sand, as they wrestle, splash, hold slimy sea cucumbers in their hands. There is no one else in sight, only their four dark silhouettes changing shape in the sparkling light.

We play volleyball in the living room with the red balloon J got from the dentist, set our dining room chairs in a long row to be the net, tease each other about our skills.

The girls have started making perfume. They pick flowers, rosemary needles, mint leaves, crushing each combination into colourful pulp. They gather all their most beautiful containers and jewelry boxes, fill them with the murky water of their concoctions, label them with poetic names. We smell each sample, buy them with one shilling coins, dab their earthy scent on our wrists. Weeks later I find containers of old flower petals in the fridge, being preserved for another (forgotten) sale.

J wants to bake meringues, flavour them with rosewater and lemon. She moves carefully through the kitchen, but I am impatient as I wash dishes, wipe up spilled egg yolks, watch my morning slipping away. Tears slip into the dishwater, and I don’t know if they are my frustration or my guilt at being frustrated. Later we savour the meringues, perfect, pale yellow and pink.

I am driving with a friend after dark when we see an animal, a mongoose maybe, but longer and fatter than any mongoose we’ve seen, run across the road through the beams of our headlights. It has the rich black and white stripes of a zebra, moves like water low to the ground, disappears in the bushes. We are both stunned, stumble over the words to best describe the mysterious creature.

I reach to turn on the shower water and jump back when a tiny baby gecko, shorter than my thumb, drops from the tap and into the bath. I try to direct the water away from it so it can scramble to safety, but a moment later am distracted when another identical gecko jumps from the curtain above my head and narrowly misses my shoulder. I laugh at my tiny scurrying shower mates.

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