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Discovering a gap in the family

Linda Pagett takes a teenager to the airport and bids farewell to a young adult. It's 4am and we've got to get to the airport. Thai International waits for no man. We purr into the boyfriend's driveway. Shadows appear, embrace and part.

A fresh young face appears in the back seat next to the pretty one that used to be mine. They chatter excitedly as we speed across the moor and don't see the deer in the headlights. I do, fleetingly, before we kill her.

We drive on. We've got to get to the airport. The chatter recommences and I ponder the portent of death as my daughter is off around the world filling the gap. Something's wrong. We cross dangerously from the fast lane to the hard shoulder. Unnerved, I stand shivering on the other side of the crash barrier like a Scottish widow clutching the still tiny hand I guided to playgroup.

Youth takes over. It's only the tyre. Something to do with the deer apparently. It's the deer I'm worried about. Whistling a merry tune, the boyfriend changes the wheel and winks. "These things," I am advised, "only happen in threes."

Eventually we join the crocodile of humanity waiting for the jumbo. It's slow to move, bad-tempered and snappy at the front. Half the passengers lean on their backpacks, noses deep in the Lonely Planet Guide. The others hide beautiful saris under cardigans or wear turbans with incongruous overcoats. "Don't touch anyone's head," hisses my daughter, "it's deeply offensive to their religion." As if worried that I might embarrass her in her new world, she guides me away leaving the boyfriend to demonstrate the theft-proof wallet chained to his inside pocket to the Indian family next to him. The turbans nod sagely. Suddenly tears remind me that this is it and youth, entwined like some two-headed mythical creature, moves into adulthood and the departure lounge.

At home we await the call. When it comes there's a noise like a herd of buffalo as everyone stampedes across the floorboards. It's Granny. "I've been thinking about Sophie," crackles the line. "She's far too small to go to India. The roads are very wide you see - teeming with cows and people. He's tall. He might stride ahead and Sophie will be left crying out alone with no one to hear her."

The cold comfort genre of Granny's logic chills the atmosphere as we all busy ourselves not listening. A ring. A stampede. It's father-in-law elect explaining that Sophie and Nick are safely in Delhi and the wallet is safely in the departure lounge at Heathrow. A mathematical conundrum comes to mind. Once you get to three, do you start counting again?

Linda Pagett is a teacher and parent living in the West Country

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