The first Mila was a dog. A Bedlington terrier. It helps if you know these things. I’m not at all resentful at being named after a dog. In fact, I can imagine the scene exactly. Mila, my father would have said, that’s a nice name. Forgetting where he’d heard it. And then my mother would remember the dog and ask if he was absolutely sure, and when he didn’t answer, she would say, OK, then. Mila. And then looking at me think, Mila, my Mila.
I don’t believe in reincarnation. It seems unlikely that I’ve inherited the soul of my grandfather’s long-dead dog. But certain traits make me wonder. Was it entirely coincidence that Mila entered my father’s head on the morning of my birth? Observing his daughter, one minute old, he thought first of the dog, Mila? Why?
My father and I are preparing for a journey to New York, to visit his oldest friend. But yesterday things changed. His friend’s wife phoned to say he’d left home.
Left home? Gil asks. What on earth do you mean? Disappeared, she says. No note. Nothing.
Gil looks confused. Nothing? You’ll still come? says the wife.
And when Gil is silent for a moment, thinking it through, she says, Please.
Yes, of course, Gil says, and slowly replaces the phone in its cradle.
He’ll be back, Gil tells Marieka. He’s just gone off by himself to think for a while. You know what he’s like.
But why now? My mother is puzzled. When he knew you were coming? The timing is . . . peculiar.
Gil shrugs. By this time tomorrow he’ll be back. I’m certain he will.
Marieka makes a doubtful noise but from where I’m crouched I can’t see her face. What about Mila? she says.
A few things I know: It is Easter holiday and I am out of school. My mother is working all week in Holland and I cannot stay at home alone. My father lives inside his head and it is better for him to have company when he travels, to keep him on track. The tickets were bought two months ago.
We will both still go.
I enjoy my father’s company and we make a good pair. Like my namesake, Mila the dog, I have a keen awareness of where I am and what I’m doing at all times. I am not given to dreaminess, have something of a terrier’s determination. If there is something to notice, I will notice it first.
I am good at solving puzzles.
My packing is nearly finished when Marieka comes to say that she and Gil have decided I should still go. I am already arranging clues in my head, thinking through the possibilities, looking for a theory.
I have met my father’s friend sometime in the distant past but I don’t remember him. He is a legend in our family for once saving Gil’s life. Without Matthew there would be no me. For this, I would like to thank him, though I never really get the chance.
It seems so long ago that we left London. Back then I was a child.
I am still, technically speaking, a child.