‘It took only one call to make me feel so far away’

Generation Emigration ‘Ireland and Me’ competition entry: Sonia Bradley, China

Sonia Bradley with her family at the Stone Forest in Kunming: ‘They have walked the Great Wall of China, swam with dolphins, and taken holidays of which I could only dream when I was growing up.’

Sonia Bradley with her family at the Stone Forest in Kunming: ‘They have walked the Great Wall of China, swam with dolphins, and taken holidays of which I could only dream when I was growing up.’

 

It took only one call, dark and barely three minutes long, to make me feel so far away. To hold your mother’s hand as she cries can hurt; but to hear your mother cry and be unable to wipe away a single tear is another level of pain. The car she had been travelling in had overturned. No one died, but a part of me did.

I live in China, with my husband and my children. My youngest, barely three, speaks fluent Mandarin. My children have their toys, an outstanding education, amazing experiences. They have walked the Great Wall of China, swam with dolphins, and taken holidays of which I could only dream when I was growing up.

They have listened to Christy and played in a tuc-tuc, proudly worn green in a land of red, and heard “Gam Be” and replied with a lusty “slainté”.

We left for a job and found worlds of opportunities in Kazakhstan, Qatar and China. We have holidayed and worked our way, crisscrossing across the globe.

But this call was like the Angelus, calling me to remember.

As I switch the computer off, my eldest comes and he hugs me. I hold him close.

“Let’s go home,” he whispers.

In that moment I taste the Ulster fry and I look in his electric blue eyes. He knows! But then he takes a hotel key and leads me home, to his home in another hotel room, like all the others. Home is where he sleeps, not friends waiting with drinks in the Poc Fada, or a pack of Monty Chips, or a bag of Tayto’s. My sons are Irish but, I fear, will never know what that truly means.

Ireland is a holiday. Nana is a face on a computer, a stranger who gives them everything she can in the brief times they share together. They cannot know the smell of rain on a school day, the taste of Barry’s when Mass is out, the deep sadness of the burial house or doting tears at the family wedding. They have seen their mother’s GAA team win (rarely), but cannot find fond familiarity that I did in the grip of the hurley.

And now I fear the next call, which brings dark clothes and shadows standing lingering outside an old family home, the rush from the airport to a cold empty house.

One day we will return, we must. One day.

“It was horrible weather, and the car just flipped. When will you be coming home?” she cried, “I just keep praying for you to find a job here. I miss you.”

“When are you coming home?”

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