It was the ring in her voice. Soft, rounded, deeply comforting, with an alto bell in the background. You can tell a lot from a voice, it has the imprint of the person, some people cultivate theirs, but if you listen you can hear even that. Her voice has that something, gravitas which resounds within me even when she wakes and looks at me with eyes which wish they hadn’t entered the world quite yet. There’s nothing better than being bathed in shared love, even when you too wake a little too early.
Poor thing though; by choosing me she’s skirted with danger galore. She once stood over me as I wrapped my body around a non-Muslim man whom stone bearing Muslim villagers were about to kill. Another time, again in a strange land, she refused to leave my side when a viscous drug-dealer growled he’d kill me. And this week, as I rise from yet another bout of bad health which almost took me, she is here hiding her deep concern behind her cheery outlook. Oh, I love her. How lucky I am.
To celebrate our wedding anniversary two days ago, we sat admiring the sparkling sea far below, with the curving coast fading into the clear blue distance. It was the best restaurant in the world, better than the garden of a gourmet pub owned by a world class chef we know, which I’d had to cancel because I’d had a turn for the worse. As we consumed our picnic, we chuckled at the luck of having met by accident in the remotest of places. Rescued from the sea by this woman, I naturally fell in love, even though I couldn’t see her as she extended her hand through the torches blinding me, it was that ring in her voice. It took three frustrating days for her to repay my eager attention and all the pent up feelings Camilla had tried to ignore burst open and within the hour, we knew.
She, a health worker, regarded a saint for having saved lives which normally would have dramatically ended. I, despised by the status quo for writing and introducing an education curriculum they wrongly assumed would threaten their extremely isolated, forgotten society. A witch doctor cast a spell upon me. I smiled, not caring. But lo and behold, soon a bundle of nasty tropical diseases almost killed me, not once, but twice, almost thrice. When that failed, they tried to drown me. Unfortunately, that involved Camilla and desperate to save her, I saved us both. But by then my health, which had taken a serious knock from which I’ve never recovered, forced me to quit the project. Our insensitive bosses bullied Camilla to stay; having nearly lost me, she refused and flew back to England with me.
That’s strong glue and it’s still riveting today. Poor woman. She ought to have taken her mother’s advice and left me for a doctor or a lawyer. Sticking with me, she’s suffered a half-wild creature from the Kenyan bush who finds England too tame. Growing up alongside a bluntly honest tribe who mistrusted obscurity, I’m alway putting my foot in it, always misreading the English. I’m too course, they’re too ‘civilised’, too subtle, I miss-read situations all the time. A smile, a polite word - I take it at face value but oh how wrong and I find I’ve offended people by responding too openly or being too candid. Time and again, Camilla explains what went wrong, but I’m still baffled.
Then there’s my spontaneity. Poor thing. She’s from a traditional family and my ways can be just a little testing. All sorts of things…, but shunning drama, here’s a mild moment. One night years ago, I threw an out of date lump of frozen fish into the bushes beside the graveyard behind our house. We heard:
“That frit me!” “What was it?” “Told you this place was haunted!”
We giggled quietly as footsteps scurried away. Camilla looked at me in that way I need, “Iain, people are everywhere in an English city, even in the dead of night.”
“But it’ll feed wild animals….”
All I’ve had to put up with is lost keys, Camilla drops them wherever she happens to find herself. The hours we’ve spent looking for them and earrings, in the house, in the street, in campsites across Europe. Once, she lost the engagement ring I’d had specially made for her. We looked for hours. I returned to the distant spot the next day and the following, and found it. But all this is nothing. It is part of living together. She’s had far more to contend with. Accepting one another is what makes a relationship last, that and respect for the other. I find I am continually amazed by this extraordinary, highly intelligent, feisty and loving person who has allowed me to share her rich life. My life is rich beyond telling.