It’s a weekend morning in late autumn or winter, on one of those days when Tawhiri (the Maori god of weather) was angry. I could tell he was angry, by the steady drumming of raindrops as they thudded down on the tin roof. In a month’s time, I’ll be nine years old.
We’re living in a rented house at the beach in South Island New Zealand, in a new country, now our family’s home. And it’s as idyllic as it sounds. Except when it’s raining, you can’t play in the sand.
I snuggle under the blankets – in no hurry to get up. What I don’t realise then is that the luxury of lying in bed on a rainy weekend day will be short-lived. Because when I turn nine, I will finally get the pony I’ve always wanted. But he comes with conditions. With ownership comes responsibility. And that includes getting out of bed on a wet morning to look after him.
But all of this is in the future. Today it’s about the novel I’m reading, which is Heidi by Johanna Spyri.
The story of the little orphan girl sent away by her aunt to live in the Swiss Alps touched my heart. I felt so sad for Heidi. She taught me compassion. Here she was, passed from one relative to another: nobody seemed to want her. When her mean grandfather dropped his frosty act, I rejoiced. Then she meets Peter the goat-herder, and there they are, living in the mountains. I’ve only ever seen fictional mountains in The Sound of Music and they looked glorious to me.
It is at the point when Heidi is suddenly sent away to damp, dreary and unfriendly Frankfurt, to be a companion for physically challenged Clara, that I start to identify with her.
For you see, only six months earlier I too had been living away from the people I loved, at a grey and dreary boarding school in England. Our family home back then was in a remote region of Malaysia, far away from any town, at a time when there was no such thing as home schooling.
When Heidi is homesick for the mountains, I recall my feelings of being uprooted from the place I loved. And I’m so grateful that I never have to suffer like that ever again. And that instead of pretending I was somewhere else, as I did, as a way of escaping boarding school, now, at last, I had my own room. And it wasn’t just for the holidays, but all year round! And that never again would I be forced to get up when the bell rang and I could, at last, indulge my passion for reading and books.
B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree