Land Lines is pleased to be able to share this extract of original writing from writer and academic Dr Richard Kerridge (Bath Spa University), ahead of his keynote speech at the Land Lines Conference (28th February-1st March 2019).
The Red Kite
Tony held the gate open. His father and son came out of the wood. Dad flashed a grin and said ‘Thank you, young man’, but Joe would not look up from his phone. Tony itched to say, ‘Put it away now. At least for the walk.’ But a row would be awful. The walk was Dad’s treat. Tony smiled as the boy’s nose went past.
The gate clanged shut, and he turned to follow the others. Dad paused and looked up, showing Tony his white hair, combed smooth, above the long brown raincoat. Joe, still on his phone, only stopped just in time and cried ‘Grandad!’ Tony rushed forwards, afraid that his dad would fall into the muddy ploughed field.
But dad was rooted, staring at the sky.
‘That’s a red kite, Grandad,’ said Joe.
Tony spotted the M-shaped wings and the big forked tail. He loved these birds. It was the way they moved, above all the way the tail tilted, one way and then the other, swivelling, correcting as the bird wobbled, responsive to every updraft. Buzzards excited him too. He liked to see them on posts and then flapping off heavily. But the buzzard’s flight was a long stately glide with occasional wing-flaps. Kites were so delicate, always adjusting, tossed by the air, almost flipped by it, but riding it triumphantly. They made him see the air’s movements, Tony thought.
‘Did you say kite?’ said his father. The near wing-tip dropped. For a moment the bird turned light ginger, except for the black outer parts of the wings.
‘Reintroduced about thirty years ago,’ said Tony. ‘They were extinct in England.’
Dad cleared his throat. ‘I was back in India for a moment. We had them there, kites with tails moving like that. You could always look up and see one. I remember them in the city. Mysore. I thought I was there.’
Joe had started to jab at his phone.
‘They sent me to England before Independence. I was thirteen. That’s your age, isn’t it, Joe? Kites. I remember them. Not red ones, though.’
He went on. ‘In the English woods I used to pretend I was in India. Some things were almost the same. Large leaves thick on the ground, chestnut leaves. Knobbly bark. Long dry grass. When I came to a glade, with scattered sunlight, I would imagine a tiger there, camouflaged. If you looked and looked, you would suddenly see it, head poised, waiting. In India I never saw one. Not a wild one. Only zoo tigers, like here. But I always hoped to.’
‘Grandad, I do that too,’ said Joe. ‘In the car I look out at the fields and imagine buffalos. Lions. Tall woods by the roadside make me think an elephant will step out, or a rhino. Stupid, really.’
‘Not stupid,’ said Dad. ‘I began to see England. Searching for India made me look closely at England. It helped me feel the touch of India, even though India was far away. My childhood too. It seemed close and real. I hadn’t lost them.’ He turned to Tony. ‘Thank you for bringing me here. I thought it might feel like goodbye to the woods, but I’m not sure now. That kite.’ He looked upwards again. ‘That same movement. It makes me feel new things can happen.’
‘Here, Grandad.’ Joe held out the phone. ‘Indian Black Kite flying.’
Dad stared at the screen, hands shaking a little. He looked up to the sky and then back to the phone, checking something. Then he nodded.
Words by Richard Kerridge
Photo by Violet Kerridge
Illustration by Katie Marland: http://katiemarland.com