a pile of folded clothes sits atop the black suitcase, ready to be packed. photos come down off the walls, the closets are cleaned out and bathroom shelves cleared off. two large duffel bags, fifty pounds a piece, contain four years of memories. i think of the boxes and bins waiting for me back home and marvel at this, a life lived in such a way, packed up and stored at a moment’s notice. i suppose that i should be thankful; i’m free, refusing to be weighed down by possessions and all my stuff.
i am thankful, but i’m also a little sad.
i sit at her feet, this liberian mama of mine, and clutch her hand while i pray for her. daily, she and i hug in the kitchen, laughing and talking about kids and food. i realize who she is to me: a friend, a sister, a mother, and i choke back tears. she’s taught me so much, about love and humility, serving others, living by grace.
i pray, and i cry, and i don’t think i’ve ever loved her more than i do in this moment.
it’s four a.m., and i lay awake under the mosquito net. my head feels heavy from fatigue and allergies, yet i know sleep will elude me. another restless night–i’ve had so, so many.
in less than a week, i’ll be in a bed. it will be quiet; i will be comfortable. i dream about sleeping away the exhaustion of the last three months.
she shows up for work crying, and she somehow seems smaller than even the last time i saw her. they stole from her last night, broke into her home, her sense of safety and security, and took what wasn’t theirs. she swallows her tears and doesn’t want to talk about it. everyone rallies around her, offering sympathy, understanding, murmurs of encouragement. people here are forever losing, losing children, losing the things they scarcely have to begin with. when does it end?
and i, in my excess, feel guilty, ashamed.
“auntie elena, you will not forget about me, yeah?” she whispers it softly into my ear as she hugs me goodbye, and time suddenly stands still. little hands claw at me, begging to hold, to be held, but all i can focus on is this one before me, jaw set with resolve, tears and questions in her eyes. i cup her face in my hands and meet her gaze; i can scarcely choke out the words. “i will never forget you. never. i love you.”
i see she believes me, and she rests her head on my shoulder. our hearts forever connected, our tears mingle in tiny pools, soaking the red dust of the earth where we stand.
i sit and stare, at nothing in particular, really. i think nothing in particular, feel nothing in particular. emptiness. it’s all that’s left. every word has been spoken, every prayer been prayed. the season comes to its close, as i always knew it would, eventually.
i lived well here; i loved well here. i did what i came here to do, did it the best way i knew how.
and then i hear it, an echo in the emptiness, a hint of hope in this barren heart:
“this chapter may be over, but the story’s just begun.”