Thursday, 12 September 2013

For love of Alison

For weeks, it seemed, we'd been moving towards the Big Date. September 6, pick up Robyn and Warrick in Gocek. Everything needed to be in good working order, boat and boat personnel.

The plan was to sail with them from the gulf of Fethiye down past the Seven Capes to Kas. We'd swim, snorkel and  paddle in the clear warm waters of Skopea Limani, impress them with Enki's comfort and sailing performance, drive them to our pick of the Lycian ruins around Kas and, of course, eat, drink and make merry. Eight days of fun in the glorious settled weather of early autumn on the Turkish Aegean coast.

A yellow taxi pulled up at the end of F dock at D-Marin Gocek at the appointed hour. They came beaming with good cheer, and bearing, as they always do, gifts of exotic foodstuffs - "coals to Newcastle", Warrick suggested, but quite the contrary. Bunches of fresh tamarind and bags of nuts, a bottle of treacly pomegranate vinegar, boxes of fleshy dried figs and Turkish sweets as soft as new skin went straight into near-empty treat baskets. We made tea, brought up the cold Efes and settled ourselves into the cockpit cushions to hear them tell of Istanbul and Cappadocia.

Then Robyn's phone rang, and the holiday was over before we'd left the marina. Life does that to you sometimes. A mother falls, and your world changes.

It took four days of long and anguished phone calls to and from New Zealand, an endless loop of  grief-stricken conversations, before Robyn packed her bags and caught an early flight home. She was brave to stay that long. Her beloved mother Alison was dying. Alison the lion-heart. Alison the lodestone. Alison of the nine lives. Alison who has survived more serious operations than it is right and reasonable to expect any person to bear, who would gladly sell everything she owns to buy more time with her five daughters and the grandchildren she loves and who in turn love her, was letting go.

Robyn might be the cleverest physician in the world (and I'm not sure she isn't) but after that phone call she was a daughter, and all the probability calculations she did from afar would not help her a jot if Alison decided to turn her face to the wall.

At first it seemed there was a fair chance that Alison might pull through - again. Everyone agreed that she wouldn't die of a fractured femur above her knee replacement and a chronically dislocated hip (that too a replacement - Alison has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since her 30s). "We've been here so many times before," they said. Robyn and Warrick swam, they snorkelled, we played backgammon and drank lots more beer. But Robyn's mind was with her mother who lay in agony, waiting for an operation which would serve only to alleviate her pain and would leave her bedridden, and tears were always close to the surface.

We spent a "freebie" day - one where Robyn didn't have to make a decision - hanging off a mooring at Deep Water Bay. We bought fresh village bread from the boatman. A big sea turtle surfaced at the least expected moments, sometimes close to the boat.

At dusk in Fethiye we scrambled up to the crumbly, majestic Lycian rock tombs behind the town and bought fresh figs and rocket and grapes and tomatoes at the market on the way home. Alex had finished disassembling the high pressure water pump by then, and we all walked back into the fish market in the warm night air, under a Turkish crescent moon. Robyn and Warrick, who know their fish, chose a large red-gilled, glistening-eyed sea bass, and we ate it baked whole, with fried calamari and prawns, cooked by one of the restaurants which circle the fishmongers. Now that was fun.

We went back out into the gulf and parked in a favourite spot at 22 Fathom Bay. We planned to leave for Kas in the morning. But the phone rang in the middle of the night, as it did every night. Alison had pneumonia and fluid around her heart. Robyn didn't hesitate, picking up the last remaining seat on the once-weekly Malaysian Airlines service to Auckland, departing Istanbul that afternoon. By 10 am we had handed her over to the marina staff in Gocek and she was on her way home to join the wailing.

Now we sit at anchor beneath the stern mountains of Kas, a town Alex and I like very much. Tomorrow we will rent a car and take Warrick to the places we wanted to share with them both. On the way down the coast yesterday he filmed the landscape for his beloved who sat waiting for a delayed flight at Istanbul airport. It was as it had to be.

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