The night before we left England, we stayed at Nan’s. My younger sister and I slept in her sewing room in the old bed in the corner. We slept in our underwear, tucked beneath the eiderdown, watching the shadows of wires strung like rigging from the light socket. There was a commode to save us going down to the yard. My sister couldn’t sleep, afraid of ghosts.
Nan’s sewing machine was folded down, her things tidied away, quiet. When Nan worked in here the room throbbed with the electric motor Grandad fixed to the flywheel. The steam iron would hiss on the ironing board like a cat, and everywhere would be covered in mysterious cut-out shapes. I remembered the time she made dressing gowns for my sister and me, out of red quilted nylon. The room was strewn with red pieces, her sewing machine and iron plugged into the light socket with an adaptor and a 150 Watt bulb glaring. Her heavy dressmaking scissors lay on the table by the sash window that looked out onto the yard. Her silver pins clung to a giant magnet that I could hardly lift. She cut us pieces of spare fabric for our dolls.
That night we used the commode in the dark, giggling at the rudeness of it. In the morning, before the February sun rose, we dressed under the glare of the bare lightbulb. I don’t remember breakfast or goodbyes.
When we returned, we wore dresses and coats made by Arab tailors in a palm-leaf shack. It seemed to Nan that we’d grown a mile.