I want to tell you a story and then you’ll have to decide how it ends.
There was some trouble in Kita, Mali — a dark-skinned girl with a beautiful smile was involved, as were three or four men. Love played its part and violence ensued. He’d been given false information. It didn’t end well in the hotel — he was attacked and left for dead. When he thinks of it now (which he tries not to), it makes him want to cry. His heart is connected to Kita; a missed opportunity.
He thought he might die: hits taken to the head, damage to his chest/lungs and leg. Someone looked after him — saved him. He was ill and forgot who he was. Delusional. For the next seven years, he was barely there — everything was hazy.
All we can do is send out love to this boy.
He lost so much weight with hollowed cheeks, he looked unrecognisable, and there was a ‘black bat’ who flitted in and out of his head, causing much distress and making his head feel like it would burst.
In 2005, a lady who saw him begging at traffic lights in Accra, Ghana, described him as ‘filthy’. She (a black lady) was with her (white) husband and she was shocked to see this white beggar. She rolled down the window to speak to him, wondering if it was a scam or for real.
“Are you a Christian, missy?” said the boy. “Can you help me please? My name is Christian… I’ve been travelling from country to country looking for my family.”
“Where are they in Africa?” the lady asked.
“Well, where are you from?” she said, noticing he had a well-to-do British accent (the lady lived part-time in Scotland where her husband was born).
“France, I think,” said the beggar.
“Are you sure?” she asked. He looked very confused and said he was begging to raise money for a ticket to get back home.
The lights turned green at that point and the lady gave the beggar £2 in local currency, but she wasn’t sure about his story. He was painfully thin, almost like he had come from a hospital bed, and was filthy, especially his blue trousers, brown walking boots and fingernails. He had bruising on the side of his face and wore rope bracelets, she thought like the Maasai wear.
After discussing the white beggar with her neighbours, they decided he’d probably come through Burkina Faso with the Fulani or another tribe to Akosombo, then walked by road to Accra. It would have been taboo to have harmed him.
This boy begged for three years.
But this boy had a sister who he missed. She used to visit him when he was poorly or desperately sad, and tell him how much she and his family loved and missed him. He wanted to come home, but he would never tell her where he was. She visited him in a mountainous area, both in the day and at night, and one Christmas Day she came to him as he sat forlornly on a beach. He was depressed after she told him how long he’d been away for and how much his disappearance had affected everyone. He told his sister that he looked like a tramp so no one bothered him, but he was stuck — he did not know how to get home. She said, “You need to become Christian again: Musical, artistic, popular and sociable. Believe in God, pray and the right moment will come when you can take the initiative to come back — the final details will be down to you.” He seemed happy with that advice. But was this sister in his dreams, was he going mad, or was it really her somehow reaching him?
But those first seven years were really tough. He went to Hell and back; not least because, when the amnesia faded, it took a long time to come to terms with what had happened to him. Ashamed and embarrassed. He still wanted to go home, but would he still be welcome? Perhaps they will have forgotten me, and moved on with their lives, he wondered. He decided it would be too difficult to get back in touch after all this time. But he really missed his sister and he saw from her Internet blogs that she was still writing about him in 2014. She had even posted an image of him holding an anaconda snake, which he’d had taken in the Caribbean — he hadn’t seen this photograph for years and he copied it and used it (briefly) as his Facebook profile image.
He once made a plan just to see how his sister would react to him appearing out of the blue. He told her he’d written a letter so she would know he was still alive. But he forgot to post it; his sister, waiting at home, never received what he’d promised. Then he was going to travel back home and he knew how he was going to do it. He got on a boat (with migrants?) in Tunis and, while wanting to get to Italy, he actually ended up in Malta. When she said she’d come and find him, he told her, “No, I want to finish the journey on my own.”
The next thing she knows he’s in France, cold, tired and hungry. “Don’t be a hero,” she tells him, “get some help.” But he’s hit (a glancing blow) by a vehicle and collapses in the street. Nimes hospital, he tells her. But he’s slipping in and out of consciousness so he can’t call her. A few days later, he’s seen her website and found her phone number, “Nice photo of you and the horses,” he laughs.
But the phone never rings. Officialdom intervenes. “They have to work out who I am, before they let me use the phone,” he tells her. Next, he’s on a British Airways flight to London, Gatwick. He was actually in Nice, not Nimes, he tells her. She goes to the Internet to check flights… this is concrete, she can check facts. There is a flight, in the air, from NCE (Cote D’Azur) to LGW, scheduled to land 17:20. At 17:09 (on her kitchen clock, set 3 minutes fast), he lands. She goes to the computer. Holy cow! Flight landed at 17:06. Her heart is beating so fast — was this really happening?
“Robin helped with all the arrangements, but I’m not sure how I’m going to get to you,” he tells his sister. He’s tried her phone a few times, but he’s in a special immigration area at Gatwick, so there’s no signal. They have to ask the lady Home Secretary’s permission to enter the UK. His sister checks who the Home Secretary is — it’s Theresa May. Eventually, she hears, “Welcome home, Mr Velten. Someone will drive you home.”
She sits, nervously waiting for her brother to turn up on her doorstep. Time drags. She hasn’t told anyone about what’s happening; it feels real, and everything is checking out, but really, could her brother just turn up at her door after 13 years? Her daughter wakes up, complaining of earache, and at the same time her brother says he’s in the village car park. She goes out, heart in her mouth, looking from one car to another in the glow of the streetlight. But he’s not there. “Where are you?” she asks. “TN22 4RT,” he says. The first cock-up of the day… he might be in a car park, but it’s not in her village.
It hits her like a bolt. It’s the “black bat” whose been talking to her for weeks — hatching this plan — not her brother. Her brother wouldn’t have made this up, surely?
She asks him next morning. “It was me,” he tells her. “But I was just testing you; to see if you really want me to come home.” Words could not describe how she felt. She was so upset and… angry… furious in fact. She gave him what for. “You might be fearful, but don’t ever come back if you’re going to be so childish,” she ended. She’d had enough of the black bat, too, and stopped all spiritual communications.
He apologised, very sheepishly, “I didn’t realise you’d be so upset.” He seemed to be totally unaware of the consequences of his behaviour. He’d been travelling solo for too long, and was perhaps mentally unstable some of the time?
All she could do was send love… and forgive him. In fact, she had to work hard to forgive him, especially when she realised that he knew he’d been found, but did not come forward.
Why the fear of reappearing? He seems to be terrified…
His sister knows he’s worried about how she’ll react to seeing him — he’s nothing like the boy she once knew. This man’s cheeks are sunken, he’s aged, his hair is quite long (tied back), he has a slight limp and is scared of his sister’s love for him. He never really knew her, and she him. But she is strong and ready to support him. She knows it will be a happy and sad time when they reconnect. He’s worried about coming home — will there be doilies all over their parents’ house? But he can stay with her when he visits the UK, for as long as he needs.
All we can do is send out love to his man. A brother who hasn’t seen his sister (in the flesh) for 14 years (and 6 days).
Will he call her (directly — not through a charity)? Or will he keep hiding away? He hasn’t meant to hurt his sister, but he just got to the point of no return. He’s feeling sick to the stomach deciding what to do, anxious, teary, and knowing he’s been found is bringing up unbearable emotions. Seeing the appeals in the Kenyan newspapers was such a shock — it felt like a 7-ton truck hit him. And then there was the Sky News appeal.
He’s evaded arrest three times over the years — he has one hell of a story to tell. And his sister wants to hear it all. Africa has changed him, but he’s still the same in one way, as children still swarm around him like bees around honey — he’s still got an amazing gentleness. How lovely he is.
Bite the bullet, Chris. You might have only told three people the true story — please let me be the fourth. You don’t know what to say to me? You don’t need to worry; I’m the big sister here and that’s for me to worry about. Take a deep breath, say, “Fuck, Fuck, Fuck” and just ring my number. I’ll call you back straight away. I have not moved on in my life and forgotten you, far from it!
When we meet, we’ll cry, hug and reestablish our connection — in private. I promise you, no one else will be with me when I visit you — leave it to me.
All my love
Can’t wait to meet Sarah, too.
And Mark, Alan, Andrew, Simon, Michael…
P.S: Uncle Tony thought he saw you in France late last year — he studied the man with a van for ages before deciding it wasn’t you!