There’s this walk I like to do from my house, when I’ve only got about forty or forty-five minutes free. I do it alone, sometimes with our dogs.
We walk the two blocks to the beach parking lot, and then head down the boardwalk to the sand. I walk around the lagoon and the dogs crash through it, then we clamber over rocks, over dunes, to the far right-hand side of the beach, directly underneath Chapman’s Peak.
There’s a hidden pathway through the rocks that leads to a beautifully maintained wooden walkway, which winds up the mountain through the milkwood forest. The dogs’ feet clatter over the planks, which creak under their weight. The sharp, hot stink of milkwood obscures the salty air, and the sound of the waves is muffled by the shrill cicadas. The branches of the trees tangle together overhead, and even on the brightest day, it’s cool and dim on the path.
The pathway ends, and then three sets of stairs take you up the steep incline of the mountain. The dogs bound up over them, taking the occasional leap into the high grass on either side. There aren’t many steps – about 100, I think – and before long, you’re at the top of the stairs, a few feet away from the Chapman’s Peak road.
And from up here you can see everything.
I look down to the left, leaning forward to get a view around the bushes, and can see the top story of our house. I can see the roof of the house of my daughter’s best friend, a block away, and the roofs of the houses of three other children in her class at school, whose birthday parties she’s been going to since they all turned 1. I see the tops of the oak trees on the Common, where we’ve been taking her for walks since she was born – first in a carrier, then in a backpack, and then on her own two feet.
Further to the left, I have a view over the whole valley, and can see the Indian Ocean at the beachside town where my Dad and my aunt live. It’s a 10-minute drive from home – lucky, since my aunt is one of my daughter’s favourite people.
Directly in front and below is the suburb where my mother has lived for the last two years, since she moved from her home in Mpumalanga to be closer to our family. My daughter often goes to her house for sleepovers and playdates. My mother taught her to swim in our pool.
I can see the informal settlement, a city in its own right, where our nanny lives. She looked after my daughter from the age of three months and has looked after our son since he was four months. We’ve watched her kids grow up, and she showers ours with love.
I can’t see the security village where my mother-in-law lives, but I can see the lakes that the estate is built around. She also hosts our daughter for regular sleepovers, and she’s given her her own room in her house. She brings us ice cream and loaves of ciabatta and her homemade carrot cake and books when she comes to visit, which is every few days.
The suburb where some of our closest friends live is nearby. We met at university over a decade ago. We lived in England together after we graduated, and now they’re a short drive from our house. We see them for braais almost every weekend. Our daughter loves their one-year-old son and still calls him “Baby”.
I can see the lighthouse at the beachside village where my husband’s cousins live. They have children the same age as ours, and though we don’t see them much outside of birthday parties, it’s a constant comfort to me to know that our daughter knows who her cousins are.
I turn around, and behind me is the mountain that my daughter calls her own – she’s got a sweeping view of it from her bedroom window, and so is as much entitled to ownership of it as anyone, I suppose. It’s lusciously green now, but nine months ago, rows of flames snaked down slowly and then suddenly roared their way to within 100 metres of our house. I’ll never forget the terror of waking up to the sound of fire and having to bundle our daughter into the car at midnight; driving down the road out of our neighbourhood and barely being able to see for smoke; all the while chatting lightly to her and saying, ‘Look at the firefighters! Look at that big hose!’ so that she wouldn’t know how terrified I was; wondering if my husband was following behind me in his car with the dogs and the cat, looking for him in rearview mirror and seeing nothing but smoke.
This place is my home. This is where we’ve built our family. We have everything anyone could want, and not a single day has passed in the four years we’ve lived here that I haven’t felt absurdly lucky.
And now we’re leaving it and all these people we love to move to a city that’s over 1 000 kilometres away, for my husband’s job. It’s a wonderful opportunity for him, and it’s the right thing to do, and the right time to do it. But it’s so difficult. Even with some distance. Especially from up here.