“Mother?” Asya whispered. She could not believe her eyes; her mother was standing behind a rope and anxiously scanning the crowd. She tried to break free from the stewardess’s hand, but the woman kept a firm grip. So she began waving frantically and yelled, “Mother! Mother!”
Her mother’s eyes finally found her amongst the disembarking passengers and her face burst into a delighted grin. Asya’s hand froze in mid wave when she realized that it wasn’t her mother after all.
When they walked through the cordoned-off area toward the luggage carousels the woman who looked so much like her mother hurried over. “Asya!” she exclaimed. “Look at how grown up you are.” She smiled at the stewardess, then knelt in front of the small girl. “I can’t decide if you look more like your mother, or your father,” she said.
“I have my father’s eyes,” Asya said.
“You most certainly do. And I have your mother’s face,” the woman said. “I am Kesi, your mother’s twin sister.”
Asya stood for a moment, undecided, then suddenly threw herself into her aunt’s arms and began to sob.
John looked down at his sleeping wife’s face and was filled with a love so fierce that it shook him to his core. Asya, the only time she was ever still, looked as beautiful as the first time he had seen her. Her caramel-coloured skin and the long dark lashes resting against her cheeks sent a surge of longing through him.
“Time to get up sleepy girl,” he said, then ran a gentle hand down her cheek.
“Mmm,” she groaned. “Just one more minute.”
He bent down and kissed her lightly on the lips. “You’d better get up; you don’t want to miss your flight.”
Asya’s eyes flew open and she pushed herself up in one fluid motion. A smile, dazzling white, lit her face and she suddenly laughed. She was finally off to collect her mother and bring her back to live here with her and her husband.
The airport in Nairobi was crowded with people of every size and colour. Body odours mingled with fried bread, fumes, and dust. Asya clung to her bag as people stared openly at her Western attire. Some were already sizing her up as an easy mark. They looked around for a protecting husband or security.
Her eyes flickered around the room searching the crowd as well, but she did not find the face she was looking for. Two men moved toward her having decided that she was an “easy mark” after all.
“Asya,” a gruff voice called above the melee.
Then there he stood, his hair now salt and pepper, but his shoulders still thick with muscle and the scars on his face and arms more pronounced. The two unsavoury men melted away into the group of people and Asya found herself alone in a large cleared area, everyone giving them a large berth.
“Otee,” she said. She smiled, then moved into the arms of the giant and hugged him. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
He grinned down at her and then almost crushed her in a long hug. “You certainly have,” he said. “Little Asya. You are no longer so little.” He twirled her around once and whistled. “Beautiful, tall, and so sophisticated. Your mother will be so proud.”
The journey back to Ngaliama was much different today than it had been so many years ago. Otee’s new truck was sturdy and reliable; he used it to carry supplies to the orphanages that he and her mother had founded a year after she had left. His many long letters had described the daily lives of the countless girls and boys who had finally found a safe place to live and learn. With food in their bellies, new clothes, and school every day the children felt as if they had been transported into a sort of paradise. Most had grown up to be stable and productive members of society.
“Your mother is so excited she hasn’t been able to sleep properly for months,” he said. “I drove through Ngaliama last month and she made me tell her at least ten times how I was going to pick you up. I believe she has the entire village worked up about your visit. The prodigal daughter returns,” he said, then laughed a deep, rumbling laugh.
Asya smiled. “I gathered as much from our phone calls,” she said.
They arrived in Ngaliama late in the afternoon, the sun at its hottest, dust coating everything. Asya was surprised to find the village exactly the same as how she pictured it for these many years. It did not seem smaller, bigger, cleaner, or filthier; it was as if time had stood still here. She said as much to Otee.
However, when they pulled up in front of her mother’s house Asya’s hands went up to her face. It was so much improved she would not have recognized it. It was tidy with new windows, a new addition, and a beautiful garden encircling it. And who but her friend Keisha, so fat now, and Mr. Uluchi stood there to greet her. She gave a delighted smile but could not help feel a little disappointed that her mother was not there to greet her as well.
Keisha raced to her friend and hugged her over and over. She dragged Mr. Uluchi over, who turned out to be old Mr. Uluchi’s son, little Holumi, from the boys school.
“Is my mother inside?” Asya asked after a few minutes.
Then suddenly she knew. Keisha could not look her in the eyes and Holumi Uluchi just stood wringing his hands.
Asya stood in the graveyard in front of the freshly turned mound of earth. It was dark and wet in contrast to the baked lighter ubiquitous clay all around. Tears ran unimpeded down her face and followed the contours of her cheeks to drip onto her blouse as she stood grieving for her mother. Otee stood far back keeping the rest of the village away, allowing Asya to grieve on her own.
She bent down and opened her black doctor’s bag and removed a small silk purse. A blue bead rolled out onto her hand. “Do you remember Kgosi, mother? I named it for the star of love,” Asya said. “May it keep you surrounded by the love of your daughter, your husband, whom you referred to as the kindest man you ever met, and the little one who will soon be here.” She patted the small bump on her stomach.
Then she made a small hole in the newly turned earth and dropped the bead in.
“1 Year ago: kids at the orphanage” by Joris-Jan van den Boom. Creative Commons Flickr. Some rights reserved.