My six month old baby is wailing in her father’s arms in Tunis airport. He jiggles her and kisses her head, and she quietens. She’s been fractious all morning; perhaps she senses the tension in the air.
I am leaving with her – for good. My husband thinks I’m only going for a week’s holiday to visit my family. Or does he? I’m not sure. He’s acting strangely.
So, yes, there is a lot of tension in the air.
In his pocket Samir has the written permission, which we had verified and stamped at the local Council offices, for me to take our daughter out of the country. A mother is not permitted to take her child abroad without official permission. Daddy decides.
I’ve tried my best to make it look as though I’m coming back. I am leaving behind the watersports business I bought with the proceeds of the sale of my London house, my Daihatsu jeep, all the belongings I shipped out to Tunisia (nine tea-chests, including one with all my favourite books in it – boy, I lugged a lot of stuff out there, what was I thinking).
All I am taking back to the UK with me is a rucksack of clothes and my baby. And yet, I can tell he is suspicious. No wonder I suppose, after everything we’ve been through.
I think about the piece of paper that’s in his back pocket and wonder if I should grab it and run. Because if he decides not to give it to me, then I can’t leave. And now that I’ve had my wake-up call, I can’t face staying a day longer; it would be unbearable. He promised he’d give me the permission slip – but he’s lied to me before.
We are standing outside the Departures area and it’s time for goodbye. He cuddles his daughter and buries his face against her for a long time. When he gives her back to me there are tears in his eyes. He pulls the paper out of his pocket and hands it to me.
‘Au Revoir Fiona. Prends soin d'elle et aimes la pour moi,’ he says. Take care of her and love her for me. Neither of us have perfect French but we don’t speak each other’s mother tongues and have stumbled along in deteriorating French for over two years (we pick up and perpetuate one another’s grammatical mistakes).
I take my baby and the crumpled piece of paper then show my boarding pass to the security guard who steps aside to let me go through to Departures. I feel safe now; it is too late for Samir to change his mind. I look back and see him looking bereft. It’s tragic it’s come to this – but all I can think about is getting away.
I sometimes wonder if I would have left so abruptly if I’d known he was going to die.
To read this serial blog from the start, please click: about-trouble-in-tunisia