Prodigal Son

by Bronwyn Hegarty

WE ARRIVED IN Llanelli on the cusp of winter. I was ten. Hawthorns and rosehips were fruiting, I discovered later, when walking the country lanes to school. The first visit home for my father since my birth. Before that he’d brought Mum, newly married, to meet his folk. The merchant seaman home at last, a nice girl in tow. ‘What an experience,’ she told us growing up. ‘They all spoke Welsh. As if I wasn’t there. Couldn’t understand a word. Rude. But his mother was good to me.’ A short visit that time. Had to get back to the Southern Hemisphere in time for my birth. Now, though, we would be staying.

We rode in a taxi to my grandparents’ house. Dad conversed in Welsh with the driver and, excited to be home, kept pointing out this and that, exclaiming: ‘Edrych ar hynny!’ Laughing, his eyes wet with tears. Mum, squeezed in the back with us three on the black vinyl seat, spewed out vacuous words. Told my younger brother to stop fidgeting, patted my little sister. I recall row upon row of grey terraced houses, lots of concrete and gloomy narrow streets. Mum told me to stop pulling faces—the wind will change, blah, blah. Ping pong balls whizzed around in my tummy.

We stopped outside a drab, semi-detached house at the end of a lane. Dad paid, and we poured out of the car, grabbing bags. Mamgu filled the doorway, smiling and breathless, exclaiming in Welsh. She wrapped each of us against her ample bosoms, tears running down her face. She held on to my dad the longest. Words like cariad popped up a lot, I remember. Darling, sweetheart. Dad used to say it to Mum at home, so I knew. I could not take my eyes off the huge swelling in my grandmother’s neck. Later, Mum told me it was a goitre caused by rationing during the Second World War.

At home in New Zealand, Dad only ever spoke a smattering of Welsh – bara for bread, menyn for butter, bore da – good morning, nos da – goodnight, diolch yn fawr – thank you. He taught me how to count to ten – un, dau, tri, pedwar, pump, etc. to deg. Now, musical sounds began to pour out of him. It was as if a dam had burst, as if he could finally be himself. I expected him to start singing, he was so happy. I told him I couldn’t understand what he was saying. ‘You’ll be starting school soon. You’ll learn to speak Welsh properly then.’ Ping pong balls spun round and round in my chest, my throat.

Dadcu hugged us all too and didn’t say much. Coughed a lot. Grey hair, grey skin, grey baggy trousers. Before we sat down to tea and sandwiches, he showed us the outhouse, down a path through his vegetable garden. I saw squares of newspaper hanging on a string inside. How was that going to work? I wondered. Was my arse going to turn grey? Would I turn grey?


Bronwyn Hegarty enjoys writing – flash fiction, short stories and poetry. She lives in the Dunedin (New Zealand) countryside with her husband and dogs. Walking in nature and her permaculture garden keep her grounded. A short story, Kārerea Alone, was shortlisted in the 2020 Queenstown Writers Festival competition. Hare Manwas published for 2020 Micro Madness. Currently, she is working on a speculative novel set in the wilderness. 

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