It's my friend, Nicolene's birthday today. She is another one of my strong, kind, wonderful, talented, fabulous friends. She's celebrating it in her new home in Perth, with her husband, her two glorious boys and a very beautiful pregnant belly. I miss her. And if we didn't have other plans I'd make her Rosemary and Lemon Chicken tonight.
Happy birthday, Nicky. Ek lief en mis jou.
I must have made this recipe, given to me by a friend, more than 100 times over the last 13 years. I serve it with garlic mashed potatoes and a crisp green salad. And each and every time I have credited her. Because, like my friend, Nicky, it has never failed me. Ours is a friendship that happened effortlessly, easily. We met in our first year at university and I have found myself, over the past 23 years, continually drawn to her gentle spirit, her kindness, her occasional vulnerable moodiness, her unexpected and infectious laughter, and her deep sincerity.
We have not always lived in the same country. More than a decade ago, we were both single and living in London. This was when she gave me the recipe, having listened to me moaning about my lack of ability in the culinary arts. We used to meet up on weekends, window shop while walking down the King’s Road, always stopping for coffee at Designers Guild. It was Nicky who took me to Columbia Road Flower Market for the first time. She has always had a thing for beauty. And we would explore the city and talk. About our experiences in London, our European travels. Our dreams for the future. Our wish to meet the right man. About family. And issues. And what it means to be a South African. We sought out one another’s company, because when we were together we didn’t have to explain ourselves. As most South African who have lived abroad know, there is always a slight feeling of being an Outsider. We laugh at different things. Feel certain things more acutely. It is as if growing up under an African sun separates us from the rest of the world. As strangers in another land, we may appear to fit in, may even make our mark, but our heart longs for something else; As Africans our internal rhythm is essentially different.
A few years later we were both married and living in Cape Town. We were home. Sometimes still longing for the excitement and cultural intrigue of Europe, but glad to be back amongst our own. She gave birth to her children and I, in blissful oblivion to how hard being a new mother sometimes is, was a less than thoughtful friend. I deeply regret the times I didn’t offer to baby-sit her two boys, didn’t meet up for quick coffee. But we saw one another occasionally, and had lovely dinner parties with mutual friends and each time, we swore that we would do so more often. I mourn those missed evenings, those lost dinners. The time we wasted.
For the past 4 years, she and her family have been based in Abu Dhabi and I traveled the world with my husband who worked on cruise ships. And strangely enough this is when we saw one another the most; we made a concerted effort to spend time together. We wrote emails to one another; always in direct correlation with how one of us were feeling. Sadness, confusion and homesickness gave rise to a flurry of correspondence, and harmony at home and a happy work environment would see only the odd email.
Jacques and I have come home this year, knowing that this is where we ultimately want to be. And so I waited for Nicky and her family to return, because working and living in the United Arab Emirates is a temporary thing. It is an extended work contract, an enriching and financially experience for the whole family, but certainly not an adoptive home. But they have made the difficult decision to relocate to Australia. And I am filled with grief. In all these years of long-distance friendship, I have never mourned her not being close to me. I have missed her certainly, but our friendship has gone unchanged. And will continue to do so, but I am filled with an overwhelming sense of loss. This move seems permanent, the boys are school-going age, and we’re in our 40’s. It’s time to settle. I had always assumed it would be here. For both our families. And suddenly our emails are strained. I know she is sad. Frightened of what lies ahead, already grieving the imminent loss, and devastated that her children will not grow up in the land of her birth. And I cannot console her. Because I grieve too. But in our friendship there are none of the recriminations that so often affect others when the emigration debate crops up. There is no attempting to justify an already heartbreaking decision, no judgment because we choose to stay and they choose to go. For us there’s only loss. And we need to be there for one another. Knowing that our friendship will always be. Knowing that I will continue to make her rosemary and lemon chicken for family and friends, but that from now on the presence of rosemary – the ancient symbol of remembrance - will be all the more poignant.
‘There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember’ William Shakespeare - Hamlet Act 4 Scene 5
Nicky's Rosemary and Lemon Chicken