1946 – 2009

They stand together on the edge of the crater at Lake Turkana, peering down. So this is where he was found, she thinks. Nariokotome Boy. Our oldest, closest hominid relation. She glances at A’waan and he flashes her a tight white smile. His dark skin here is common, unimportant. In Sydney, he’s always stared at, overly admired. She squeezes Alia’s hand, glad she’s here too, satisfied that her tiny six-year-old body will register this moment, remember it when she’s old. The remains of the 1.5 million year old homo ergaster have been taken away, but the impression his bones made are clear, as if he’d been lying on a bed and risen only a moment ago.

Around them, other tourists jostle and push, trying to get a better view for photographs. Lila doesn’t carry a camera, and mislaid her sunglasses somewhere in the hotel. She squints in the glare to make out the Kenyan tour-guides, patient under their hand-scrawled signs. Too many people, she feels the irritation travel up her spine like a sickness. She wants to see this boy, this Paleolithic cousin, alone, at dawn. She wants to kneel down at his grave and tease the thin thread that spools between she and he. She feels a sharp tug at her wrist, looks down.
Aw’aan! Where’s Alia gone?

Lily Bellou was born in 1946 to Leda and Pavlos Bellos. She was only a year older than her sister, Eleni, and grew up with the sense of responsibility and maturity an older sibling often feels. She was a quiet, studious child, never fond of sports or outdoor play, content to sit in her bedroom for hours, reading, or looking out of the window creating imaginary scenarios. She took the role of ‘teacher’ to her younger sister seriously, and was often heard correcting or guiding Eleni in her letters and numbers.

At the age of four her mother took her to live in a monastery on Syros, an isolated Greek island. There, she was given whichever books her mother could find in the port town or order from the mainland, and the nuns supplemented this with lessons in cookery, needlework, knitting, iconography and theology. When she turned twelve, she and her mother returned to Australia where she completed high school. She gained high enough grades in her leaving exams to gain a place at Sydney University to study Medicine, while living with her mother and sister. When she finished her degree, she was awarded a postgraduate scholarship to Berkeley, where she trained to become a surgeon.

While studying and living in California, Lily met an ex-military officer, Philip Yves, at a university party. He was eight years older, now working for the SAS in an advisory role. She had blossomed from diffidence into beauty in her early twenties and there were no shortage of young men taking her to parties and dinners. Emotionally, she didn’t allow herself to let go. With Philip, she plunged. They moved in together within six months, and chose to live in Santa Barbara, where Lily practised as a surgical oncologist.

When Lily turned thirty, she began trying to have a baby with Philip. After a year of trying, of three miscarriages at eight weeks, of gynaecologists and endocrinologists, of IVF and herbs and mineral supplements, she found that her womb would simply not nourish the child long enough for it to be viable. She asked Philip if he would consider using a surrogate and he said no. Lily continued to live with him for a few more months, but his refusal poisoned their relationship. Desperate to have a child, she separated from him, left her job at the hospital, and flew home to Sydney to be with her mother. Here she began to delicately consider her next step, and decided to ask her sister Eleni to carry a child for her. She flew her sister back to Sydney and waited. Eleni introduced her to a young Kenyan man called A’waan, living in the same apartment block in inner-western Sydney. He agreed to become a paid sperm donor with Lily’s eggs, and to also be active in the resulting child’s life.

By the time Eleni was ready to give birth, Lily and A’waan had begun to trust and like each other. It may have been expedience, but Lily liked to think it was the first stirring of love. Lily’s eggs and A’waan’s sperm produced a beautiful baby girl, whom they named Alia. All was well, except for Eleni. When the time came to give up the child, she couldn’t. She had been breastfeeding Alia for the first six weeks, then began expressing milk so Lily could take over. At that time, Lily and A’waan moved in together, taking the baby with them. Alone, in a rented apartment, Eleni killed herself.

Lily and her parents were devastated. For years they mourned and blamed themselves. When Alia turned six, Lily and A’waan decided to take her to Kenya to meet her African relatives. When they were there on holiday, she went missing.

Lily became ill with leukaemia at sixty-three. At the time of her death in 2009, she was still searching for her daughter.