Eileen’s sad and embittered spirit, surely, has lingered here too long, seeping into the damp walls and leeching into the overgrown garden and sodden soil. But the ghosts that linger here in Emmarentia are not only Eileen’s, I imagine – the echoes of long-forgotten quarrels and antagonisms, obdurate silences and frustrations, disappointments and unhappy compromises, form a palimpsest, too, on the peeling paint and sagging, blotchy ceilings. This is what the white sangoma, Hermon, will cleanse for us.

He came yesterday, a man of medium build, close-cropped hair, a gingerish beard, a hooded, intent look that seemed suitable to his curious profession; listened and questioned, then launched into an explanation of his own background and beliefs. A background in medicine and psychology had left unanswered questions, and he found himself ‘led’ over a long period towards mysticism and the esoteric; shamanism, Bhuddism, and our own African sangomas had trained and informed him, out which mix (I don’t say, ‘brew’) he had formed his own particular approach and system of beliefs. All things are interconnected, everything has meaning, nothing happens by accident, he believes.

After our conversation we went on a tour of the house as he explained how he could help us. He will ‘wash the entire house in smoke’, he said; he will come for three three-hour sessions of intense meditation and spiritual activity during which he will seek to understand, to apprehend, the forces that inhabit or are directed against this house and us, it’s inhabitants; he will seek to build a dome of light and purity to protect us. We ourselves might experience conflicts, upheavals, during this period, and even afterwards, as hidden forces surface from the past – both Rob’s and mine: we should bless these, and let them go, said Hermon.

It was a fascinating, absorbing encounter, and my inherent rationalism notwithstanding, I could feel the emotional and spiritual complexity of what Hermon was saying, and recognise in myself some need for ritual, for ceremony, for a spiritual cleansing and enlightenment that would somehow clear the air and allow Rob and me to start over, to begin a new life together, and to live happily in this home that has seen too much grief and unhappiness.

Rob, too, feels it, more strongly that I do, I think: and so we have agreed, Hermon will commence his cleansing exercise next week. We will have the divorce behind us; we will have a new beginning in our own hands to shape and make. As I wrote in my diary, it will be money improbably, but probably well spent.